Reflections on the turbulent life of a Native American writer.
A glowing introduction from Sherman Alexie dubs Mailhot, the Saturday editor for the Rumpus, the “biological child of a broken healer and a lonely artist,” and her debut memoir undeniably embodies those attributes. She was raised on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia, and her innocent youth was spent within the orbit of a doting grandmother. The author chronicles her teenage marriage to Vito, the loss of her son Isadore in court upon the birth of second son Isaiah, and how they each “ruined each other, and then my mother died.” Mailhot fearlessly addresses intimately personal issues with a scorching honesty derived from psychological pain and true epiphany. She discusses her precarious affair with a writing professor, visits with her psychotherapist, who tempered her manic depression with a stay at a psychiatric facility (the “madhouse”), her prideful work as a distinguished Indian writer, and the abuses of her callous, cynical mother and “drunk savant” father. The author’s bipolar condition disrupted many of her formative relationships with new men she introduced to Isaiah, only to have them fade into obscurity. She shares these anecdotes through lyrical, brooding, vastly introspective language. Her prose expresses the urgency of her life in clipped, poetic sentences that snap and surge with grief and intensive reflection. Mailhot’s proclamations about her heritage, its traits, and particularly the restlessness and codependency of Indian women permeates the text: “Native women walk alone from the dances of our youth into homes they don’t know for the chance to be away.” Her moral crisis emerges as not one of overcoming the shame of her past, but how to live and love while reconciling her need for both connection and independence. Slim, elegiac, and delivered with an economy of meticulous prose, the book calibrates the author’s history as an abused child and an adult constantly at war with the demons of mental illness.
An elegant, deeply expressive meditation infused with humanity and grace.