Terese Marie Mailhot
Heart Berries is a powerful memoir of one Indian woman’s struggle with her past, her present, and her ghosts. Written as a letter to her husband, Terese Marie Mailhot grapples with her traumatic upbringing, mental illness, and shame.
Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.
Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.
For a short book, it took me awhile to read Heart Berries. I think this was in part due to the heavy nature of the book, and in part because of the writing. I will be the first to admit that writing that verges on poetry is not my favorite. I ended up reading so many sentences multiple times because my brain wandered wishing for straightforwardness. I do not hold this against an author, of course. This is a me problem. I am able to recognize the writing’s artistic value and merit while not necessarily enjoying it. While the Mailhot’s style led to a couple points of confusion where I was uncertain what period of time she was discussing, it was overall powerful and emotive prose that evokes a reader’s emotions and pain.
eart Berries is both raw and refined. There were sections of Heart Berries that strongly resonated to me, particularly as someone who also struggles with bipolar II disorder. Mailhot explains feelings that I have never had the words for. In the chaos the illness brought to her life, I felt seen.
Overall, I highly recommend reading Heart Berries at least once. Mailhot’s story is one that should be read, felt, and shared.
February 6, 2018
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