Don’t be fooled by the title. Terese Marie Mailhot’s memoir, published under the romantic, rather forgettable name Heart Berries, is a sledgehammer … Phantoms speak throughout Mailhot’s book — they speak through her. She began working on it when she had herself committed after a breakdown. She wrote her way out of the chaos of her past … Heart Berries has a mixture of vulnerability and rage, sexual yearning and artistic ambition, swagger and self-mockery that recalls Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick … So much of what Mailhot is moving toward here still feels nascent — the book wants a tighter weave, more focus. But give me narrative power and ambition over tidiness any day.
Although this slim and devastatingly calibrated memoir which features brief, impressionistic and carefully modulated essays tops out at 160 pages, Heart Berries truly does provoke the reader to reconsider what it means to be epic … In blunt yet lyrical prose, she depicts struggles and stories — of herself, her mother, her father and her grandmother — that are at once singular and sovereign, yet also representative and collective, portraying the travails and quotidian heroism required to be ‘a woman wielding narrative now’ … Even as her book resists the oversimplified arc of pain and suffering followed by redemption and happiness, the bittersweet progress that Mailhot makes by the end feels hard-won, precarious but hopeful.
This is a voice so distinct in tone, texture and personality that the community from which it springs is immediately rendered secondary. Mailhot writes compassionately from deep within the Native experience, never losing sight of her responsibility towards its telling, never losing sight of herself. The personal is indeed political ... This is a slim book full of raw and ragged pain, the poisonous effects of sexual abuse, of racial cruelty, of violence and self-harm and drug addiction. But it is not without a wry, deadpan humour and clever derision. Its quiet rage is directed outwards towards the intangible yet definitive (white supremacy, male supremacy), the unjust shape of the world, while a deep tenderness and empathy are shown to those who share in the author’s vulnerability ... She has succeeded by telling the ugly truth with rich and beautiful words, sumptuous imagery and an unforgettable speech. This is a startling book.
Somehow, she has found the words—most unusual ones—to tell her story, and because she uses words in such strange ways, the result is spooky and powerful. Although many critics have described this book with stuttering superlatives, readers will differ on whether it’s poetic or incoherent, brilliant self-examination or wordy narcissism. Whatever the conclusion, it’s a roller coaster of a read, and perhaps one especially valuable for those who have struggled with mental illness and/or obsessive love.
Mailhot’s first book defies containment and categorization. In titled essays, it is a poetic memoir told in otherworldly sentences ... Not shy, nor raw, nor typical in any way, this is a powerfully crafted and vulnerable account of living and writing about it.
This stunning, poetic memoir from Terese Marie Mailhot burns like hot coal. I read it in a single feverish session, completely absorbed and transported by Mailhot’s powerful and original voice … The strength of her writing comes from Mailhot’s fearless embrace of emotional darkness and in her depiction of the psychic cost of living in a white man’s world … Situating her physical and psychic pain in context with a multigenerational focus, Mailhot crafts an intensely moving story about mothers and what they pass down to their children.
Part love letter, part poem, it is a genre-defying marvel of a memoir ... Part poetic love letter, part confession, it is wholly enchanting. Mailhot wrings grand truths out of even the predictable events that define most lives ... A fearless and artistic work, Heart Berries is ultimately a tale of not just surviving, but thriving even in the dark.
Mailhot fearlessly addresses intimately personal issues with a scorching honesty derived from psychological pain and true epiphany … Her moral crisis emerges as not one of overcoming the shame of her past, but how to live and love while reconciling her need for both connection and independence. Slim, elegiac, and delivered with an economy of meticulous prose, the book calibrates the author’s history as an abused child and an adult constantly at war with the demons of mental illness. An elegant, deeply expressive meditation infused with humanity and grace.