I didn't expect to be writing this today. I wrote a review yesterday of last week's book and was about to get started on this one. I chose this book of the three in my current "to read" pile because it was the longest of the three. I have a flight to DC and back next weekend and thought that would give me plenty of time to finish it.
Less than 24 hours, it's done.
I don't know if I devoured this book as much as it devoured me. There's no way this review will do it justice.
Sherman Alexie is something of a local boy to us here in Spokane. Technically, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation about an hour away, but he was born here and is a fixture of the local literary community. He's a big freaking deal - and, we once had a Twitter messaging exchange before he quit the platform, so we're basically close friends. Okay, maybe not. But, I'm a fan.
I heard about his memoir earlier this year, but didn't have a terribly strong desire to read it. I'm not much of a memoir gal. Then, I read this open letter to his readers about how talking about this book was haunting him so much, he ended his book tour early. I felt the subject matter might be too heavy for someone trying to crank through a book every week. Still, it kept coming up. In list after list of the "best books of 2017" there was Sherman Alexie. I borrowed it from a co-worker and prepared myself for an emotional struggle.
The book is a remembrance of Alexie's mom, who passed away in 2015. It's not a glowing look back at a life, well-lived. It's the heart-wrenching reality of life on the reservation; it's a tale of a young man lucky to have escaped a father who drank too much and a mother who lied. A lot. Alexie made peace somehow with the father who abandon his family many times - who never did much to provide a good life. But, you see in story after poem after prose-laden chapter that Alexie has not come to terms with the relationship between mother and son. He was relieved when she died. And, tormented by guilt and grief.
And, it's so much more than that.
The book explores all the ghosts of Alexie's past. The bullies that tormented him through childhood, the brain injury that defined his birth and young life, the decisions he made to leave the reservation he left behind in order to find the man he was supposed to become. The scars are literal and figurative and you find yourself wanting to look away from a man laying himself so bare.
But, you don't. You dig and dive and devour until you realize you've been holding your breath for 449 pages. And, on page 450, you break. And, you still have five pages left.
It's not a "cry your eyes out" kind of book. It's powerful and moving and incredibly sad, but it's Alexie's story to tell. Because some of the most painful revelations come in the form of poetry, it's as if the reader is somehow one additional step removed.
His writing his breathtakingly beautiful. His experiences are hauntingly sad. His life on the reservation is frustratingly common. He got out - but, never escaped. He describes his theology as a verb: return. Like that spawning salmon that defined his tribe for centuries, he is constantly returning to his childhood home. To his memories. To his grief.
I loved this book because it cracked open my chest and settled in my heart. I love it because he talks about places I've been and people I know and stories I've covered in the news. I love it because the writing his damn near perfect. I love it because, ultimately, it is hopeful.
I could go on. And, on. And, on. It's much easier to let the work speak for itself. One of the last I'll read this year and, undoubtedly, one of the best.