Geller uses her training as an archivist to mine the mementos in search of a better understanding of her mother and her conflicted life. Along the way, Geller also gains insight into her own life and identity. With a deft touch, she weaves together the plotlines of her mother’s life and of her own ... In less capable hands, Geller’s story might be too grim to read, as both her mother’s life and her own have been exceedingly difficult...Geller does does not settle into the mire, though she shares her own experiences with remarkable candor. Instead, she brings a professional objectivity to the narrative and illustrates how the threads of addiction can weave through generations. These powerful incidents need no elaboration. With her simple, direct writing style, Geller lets them stand on their own ... Interspersed across the pages of the book are images of the actual contents of the suitcase, including children’s drawings, photos of Geller as a child, and pictures of her parents and her sister. The camera captured smiles and laughter – the faint promise of hope. Geller never lets go of that light.
... riveting and searching ... artful ... evocative ... With both harrowing episodes and moments of beauty to linger in, Geller’s finely crafted work of extraordinary strength and survival spans worlds, encompassing life and after-life.
... works on many levels. It is a poignant attempt to understand the author’s mother, who left her and her sister when they were young children and only intermittently showed up in their lives. It is also a portrait of modern reservation life as Geller returns to her mother’s childhood home in the Navajo Nation to meet her estranged family. It is also a story of addiction and the toll it exacts on generations of a family. Geller deftly weaves these narratives and more into a work of art that is at once painful and triumphant ... The cyclical nature of all life permeates the work and creates a rhythm that infuses the story with energy. This is not to imply that it always creates a positive energy — much of the book is grim, documenting whole lifetimes of extraordinary hardship. The drumbeat of life destroying and then recreating itself opens up a strange vein of hope that imbues the work with a sense of resurrection. There is perhaps no more powerful cycle that fuels Dog Flowers than the brutal constancy of addiction and, at times, momentary recovery ... masterful.
Gellar vividly recounts her experience coming to terms with her mother’s life ... Weaving stories from her childhood as well as from the present, Gellar describes in rich detail a family life filled with patterns of neglect, abuse, and mental illness mixed with moments of joy and humor. With instability as a constant in her life, it’s uplifting to see how Gellar manages to find her own voice and is able to share her story with clarity and heart ... An introspective reflection on the complexities of family relationships that will engage fans of memoirs.
... reads more like a personal diary where Geller’s mother occasionally makes an appearance, but is more frequently populated by other family members ... This memoir requires some emotional fortitude to trudge through, let alone live through. The everyday minutiae of surviving an abusive home and chaotic childhood can read like a litany of misfortunes. While taxing emotionally, this approach also drags the narrative, which could have benefited from greater introspection by selecting key biographical episodes that are instructive in some way, rather than an ongoing matter-of-fact catalog of everyday tragedies. But maybe that’s part of the point. Maybe the only order Geller could hope to impose on her chaotic life was that of chronology. Maybe it’s a fool’s errand to look for something deeper, but I don’t think so ... When so much of contemporary nonfiction leans heavily on identity as a central theme and organizing principle, Geller’s resistance to such tropes is a welcome reprieve.
Though it successfully follows many of the conventions of literary memoir, seeking resolution through the excavation of family mysteries, it is also important to recognize this book as an indigenous woman’s testimony ... The memoir, too, is successful in its goal to tell a relatable story. It is rendered in the MFA-writing-workshop style, which emphasizes homogenizing craft over authenticity. While Geller’s story is well told, it also keeps the reader at a safe distance. You may closely observe without fear of being bedraggled. At the conclusion of Dog Flowers, I am glad for the daughter who has found her way to a peaceful, stable life. Like with the familiar neighbor who waves from across the street but whose dramatic background you only hear about second hand, I learned a lot about the author but never felt I knew her, much less the woman at the center of the narrative ... After centuries of exclusion of first-voice testimonies of women and people of color who have been silenced by White patriarchal and otherwise elitist dominance, it is important to recognize the contemporary story of a daughter of an indigenous woman born on a reservation in the United States. Despite generations of denigration and deprivation, the human spirit is relentless in seeking love, feeling compassion, and fighting for survival, and this too, is noteworthy in Dog Flowers.
... the author expertly weaves her story into Laureen’s, comparing her memories with her mother's records ... Geller's mix of archival research and personal memoir allows readers to see a refreshing variety of perspectives and layers, resulting in an eye-opening, moving narrative ... A deftly rendered, powerful story of family, grief, and the search for self.
... stirring ... The author’s accounts of her family members’ struggles with addiction are heartbreaking and the narrative is punctuated with haunting photographs and her own childhood drawings. This beautiful memoir is not to be missed.