Book Review: Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

Book: Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

Published February 2018 by Counterpoint|143 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Memoir

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.

This is one of those books that seem really popular, in the sense that everyone is reading it, so I figured I’d read it and see why people love it so much.

So, I wanted to love it, but it was just okay for me.

A big part of it is both the length and the writing style.  I wasn’t expecting it to be so short.  It’s not even 150 pages, and that’s including the Q & A at the end, plus a forward at the beginning.  It’s not long at all, and I think that’s why I finished it, because I really struggled with her writing style.

It felt like I was reading diary entries or her notebook, and her memoir felt really disjointed and all over the place.  Stream-of-consciousness is what comes to mind, and so Mailhot jumps around in time and place.  It is one of those books you really have to pay attention to, otherwise you’ll miss something.  Not only that, but it felt like I was reading a collection of essays.

It’s not completely Mailhot’s fault, since I went into this book expecting a more traditionally written memoir.  I also felt like I was reading the same thing over and over- it felt like each chapter involved Mailhot pining after someone, while lamenting over having one child, while her other child was taken away from her.  There didn’t seem to be any resolution or movement, and I think, what it comes down to, is that I was expecting something very different than what this memoir contained.  I also thought the usage of the word you throughout the book made me feel like I was watching things from a distance, and I had a hard time connecting with her.  I had a hard time keeping up with her thought process, since it does meander around quite a bit.

It’s a shame, since there were a few sentences that were absolutely beautiful and poetic.  I wanted to like it, I really did.  And I tried so hard to like it, but I just didn’t have it in me.  I can see why so many people love it, and I really do think that the reasons why people love it are the reasons I didn’t, but not every book is going to be for every person.  This clearly wasn’t the book for me, but I am glad that it is a book that works for so many other people.

2 stars.  Heart Berries was just okay, and I was definitely expecting a more traditional memoir.  Even though it wasn’t for me, I can see why so many people think it’s a great read.

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