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, 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.
(First some trigger warnings, especially for suicidal ideation and an attempt, abuse, and eating disorders.)
There is so much to admire here. Allow me to list the ways:
- Mailhot puts her story on the page in a way that’s both spare and evocative, simultaneously emotional and unsympathetic. It’s like she takes the glass form of a memoir, smashes it at her feet, and rearranges it best for her truth, complete with stray debris and blood from her cut hands.
- The writing is amazing. Some chapters have an intricate internal logic that I’ll need to revisit to fully appreciate, and the one liners are art.
I think of you often, but there are still spaces unchanged by you.
I learned that any power asks you to dedicate your life to its expansion.
Men objectify me, to such a degree that they forget I eat. You feed your dog more kindly than you feed me. That’s men.
- Some chapters fairly jump off the page – the first is one of these and I was sure I had a five star read in my hands. The good is blow the roof off amazing so maybe I’m greedy to want that all the way through, but some of the middle essays fell flat for me. I’m hoping that changes on a reread.
- The forward and Q&A afterward provide context and helped me build a framework to situate my thoughts. Skip them at your own peril as they add so much to the work. I’d also recommend reading Heart Berries in as large gulps as possible. My own reading was spread over two weeks and feels diluted because of it.
Overall this is an unrelenting, masterfully written work – not my usual fare but I loved it all the same.
Thanks to Counterpoint and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.