It's a Bank Holiday here in the UK and I have had most of the day to myself. I haven't been sleeping well recently and started reading Heart Berries into the early hours of this morning, I only had about 20% left on my Kindle so took the opportunity to finish it off while all was quiet in the house. This was a NetGalley ARC that I am very late in reading but I am so glad I finally got round to it.
Despite its brevity this short memoir stirs so many emotions in the reader that, had I not finally dozed off, I would certainly have finished it in one sitting. This is my first book, non-fiction or otherwise written by a female First Nation Canadian writer and it deals with themes of identity, abuse, motherhood, mental illness, love and relationships. I was hooked from the opening as Mailhot grabs the reader by the throat and pulls them into the narrative. This is a complex book to review as it is written in such a way that we follow different threads of the authors thoughts. In a style reminiscent of Maggie Nelson's Bluets, we follow Mailhot through memories of her childhood, to the difficult moments of her first marriage where her oldest son is removed from her care, to a stay in a mental institution and a destructive love affair. The memoir is written to Casey the man she loves but the two have such a tumultuous relationship you beg for her to walk away from him. Instead, she continues to anchor herself to him and I don't think he is worthy of her love - but then she doesn't think she is worthy of any kind of love at all.
"I can hear my aunt's voice, telling me that if my security depends on a man's words or actions, I've lost my power."
If only she had taken this on board. Unfortunately the difficult relationship with her mother, the abuse at the hands of her father leads her down the path of many incompatible love affairs with men who treat her badly, and so the cycle continues.
"They seemed content. It didn't matter if he (mother's boyfriend) groped me. It didn't matter if he groped my cousin. None of it mattered."
What hope could there be for the heart of this young girl? She grows up yearning for love and attention and looks for it in the wrong places. My heart broke for her when she was half asleep and fumbling in her bed to draw her son closer to her in the night. Her realisation that he had been taken away from her was almost too much for me. My experience of motherhood has been so different from Mailhot's that it feels so unjust that women the world over go through such traumatic events. It felt like I was reading an intimate confession as I was carried away on a stream of consciousness. I'm not sure if this was the intention and at times this felt like the first draft of a work rather than the final article. However, it worked for me. This book has been incredibly affecting and I am going to be seeking more writing by indigenous authors as I found the sections on identity enlightening - particularly her writing on spirituality and belief.
I would certainly recommend this and I'm glad I read it when I did. Some books come to you at the right time and this was the right time for me.