Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot
Published by Counterpoint Press, 2018
Wow! This book is one that hits you right over the head with its candor and rage. I guarantee you that you are either going to love it or hate it. There is no room for middle ground with this book. It is written as a long, narrative poem that Terese began when she had herself committed after a breakdown. It is addressed to Casey, her writing teacher with whom she had an affair and who fathered one of her children. She wrote it as a means of healing her soul. It is raw, poignant, and powerful.
It’s too ugly – to speak this story. It sounds like a beggar. How could misfortune follow me so well, and why did I choose it every time?
Terese grew up on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia. With an absent mother and a violent father, she ended up in foster care and endured a childhood riddled with poverty, addiction and abuse. Finding herself as a pregnant and married teen, she eventually lost the custody of one child while she was giving birth to another. Suffering with an eating disorder and a bipolar condition, she was destined for a life that consisted of damaged relationships, neglect and trauma. This book is her attempt to come to grips with her past and her culture.
In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution.
Although almost lyrical at times, it is not an easy read. It is deceptively short, but took me a long time to digest each little essay/chapter – partly because it was so dense with meaning, partly because it was hard to follow her fragmented train of thought. But, given the nature of the memoir, I wouldn’t expect a tidy, organized structure. Her past is messy, so it makes sense that the structure of her narrative is also messy. It works for me. In a world that craves order, she reminds us that there is beauty in disorder too.
I strongly encourage you to give it a try. Terese’s story, like so many others, needs to be heard. Read it for what it is ….. a woman’s attempt to make sense of her life. To smash the demons in her head in order to make room for a more peaceful existence. It is beautiful and painful all in the same breath. There were sections I wanted to rush through, and sections I wanted to re-read 100 times, like this one:
I avoid the mysticism of my culture. My people know there is a true mechanism that runs through us. Stars were people in our continuum. Mountains were stories before they were mountains. Things were created by story. The words were conjurers, and ideas were our mothers.
Terese may avoid the mysticism of her culture, but she has certainly conjured up her soul with this book. Enjoy.