Set in Maine, the book’s 12 stories illuminate life and death on the Penobscot Indian Nation reservation, where Talty was raised, in all its heaving, visceral glory. Stories explore everything from runaway daughters to infant loss and cancer, from beer runs to porcupine hunts, all of which take on vivid contours thanks to Talty’s fresh, irreverent prose. At the center of the collection is David, a Penobscot boy living on the rez, and it’s his voice, youthful, brash, angry and loving, that links all of the stories ... Talty has an incredible ability to take the seemingly disparate events of David’s life and reveal how interconnected they are, how each tiny decision becomes something bigger, how the small moments click together in ways that are both heartbreaking and revelatory ... The collection is also teeming with the undeniable physicality of the natural world ... Though this is Talty’s first book, it’s a remarkable collection that calls to mind the stories of Anthony Veasna So, whose debut, Afterparties, so captured Cambodian American life in California. Both Talty and Veasna So have electric, captivating voices that manage to channel grief, trauma, boyhood and brutality in their totality ... With Night of the Living Rez, Talty has assured himself a spot in the canon of great Native American literature. This is a collection where a simple quest for weed can turn into rescuing a friend whose hair has been frozen to the ground, where everything small is connected to something bigger, something powerful. And in revealing those connections, Talty forms a rich and vast picture of what it is to be alive, with stunning clarity, empathy and unwavering honesty.
Talty depicts the relationship between David and Paige perfectly — the siblings clearly care for each other; it's evident beneath the bickering and the long periods when they don't see each other ... The story ends with both mother and son experiencing terrifying medical emergencies; it's almost excruciating to read, but it's undeniably powerful, and, in its own way, beautiful ... Talty's prose is flawless throughout; he writes with a straightforward leanness that will likely appeal to admirers of Thom Jones or Denis Johnson. But his style is all his own, as is his immense sense of compassion. Night of the Living Rez is a stunning look at a family navigating their lives through crisis — it's a shockingly strong debut, sure, but it's also a masterwork by a major talent.
Not even Mr. Talty’s dark wit can compensate for the unrelenting amount of suffering his collection depicts. Readers of contemporary literary fiction are accustomed to their books rating high on the misery index; yet this collection’s catalog of addiction, abuse, neglect, injury, betrayal, death and despair adds up to a whole new level of human wretchedness ... Which creates the sense that there is more going on than the usual suspects of trauma and social injustice. David comments that his reservation is 'for the dead' because it was built on a burial ground, but he also means something more bitter: There is no real life in this cursed place, only a shambling sort of living death, and the traditional spells that might have reversed the impulse to destruction have all been lost or forgotten.
It’s a rare thing to be really and truly grabbed by a book ... Night of the Living Rez is going to take you on a trip, pulling you through a world with which you are likely unfamiliar, even as it exists alongside your own. This collection of a dozen stories is a reflection and exploration of Talty’s history and heritage as a member of the Penobscot Nation, bringing together moments of triumph and tragedy as it digs into the realities of what it means to be connected to one’s culture while also striving to live in the larger world ... Every one of these stories is effective on its own, brimming with a bifurcated and self-aware energy. But as they are consumed together, they feed on one another, spiraling upward on waves of simple joy and sadness and dark humor generated by the trials and tribulations of a singular young man. This is a book that is more than the sum of its parts, each tale a piece of the puzzle; it all comes together into a smart, thoughtful and utterly fascinating big picture ... These are thoughtfully rendered and beautifully written stories, stopping at various points on a unique coming-of-age pathway. Each tale wrestles with large questions of identity, showing the struggle that comes with trying to maintain a connection to the past while also embracing the possibility of the future ... an exceptional and powerful collection, a book that addresses its world and the people living in it in myriad ways. These stories are packed with sharp edges, quiet dignity and dark humor. Smart, funny and challenging, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time.
... unforgettable ... Told in non-chronological order, the stories paint an often bleak, sometimes tender picture of contemporary Native life ... Loss and pain and inherited trauma aside, Night of the Living Rez manages to assert that hope and forgiveness are possible.
... the best collection I have read all year ... deeply interconnected, leaving the reader to constantly wonder what each moment will set into motion ... Among the bitterness and darkness, there are also moments of hope, in the collection, that burn brightly.
The dozen stories of Morgan Talty's vivid debut collection, Night of the Living Rez, certainly stand alone ... To discover all 12 together, however, becomes a richly enhanced experience, their intertwining links creating a more sustained, rewarding read ... Through David's maturing eyes, Talty illuminates his narratives with empathy, vulnerability and, occasionally, unexpected humor ... Strikingly successful.
The devastating and witty voice of this book guides the reader into territory often left untrod in other narratives that deal with addiction ... What makes the stories that compose Night of the Living Rez truly stand apart from many comparative drug narratives is that they are stories about people who will do anything to help one another, about relationships of mutual survival.
What’s so impressive in this story collection—and ultimately what imbues the work with such poignancy—is Talty’s restraint, his refusal to opt for sensationalism over authenticity. There’s a graceful interplay between his stories here, with portraits of pronounced family tragedy bleeding beautifully into those of gentle childhood hijinks. Talty understands each life as a small mythology, a grand accumulation of minutiae, and brings depth and nuance to each of these stories. The result is a work that builds in power across its pages, its woven narrative tapestry becoming richer and more robust with each successive story ... Talty’s debut story collection is a wonderfully understated work with sneaky emotional force, anchored by a memorable main character and the author’s keen understanding of childhoods that have been marked by instability.
Discerning, masterful ... Haunting details capture the restlessness of David’s world ... Night of the Living Rez is bleak and raw in depicting David’s experiences—but his brilliant, chiseled stories still demand attention, demonstrating the urgency of telling the truth.
The twelve stories in Night of the Living Rez are masterfully rendered, demanding to be read, then read again ... while Talty has clearly considered accessibility in his work, because of the lack of Penobscot representation in mainstream literature, it’s wise for non-Native readers to be careful in interpreting it as a definitive portrait of this tribe. Far better to read it as it’s intended: as a beautiful and brutal portrait of one Penobscot boy, his family, and friends ... The impulse to return to this work is because there’s much to admire on a craft level. Not just sentences, though readers who underline passages they love will easily mark up the text. All the story elements are in conjunction with one another. The architecture of these stories is that of someone who intimately and expertly understands short fiction, which arguably utilizes additional skills than longer form—compression and endings that are poetically poignant ... The recurring themes and imagery emerge subtly, and are never overstated ... an impressive debut filled with brilliant stories to revisit.
Although each of the 12 linked tales in Morgan Talty's debut collection captures a particular moment, relationship or experience, together they give Night of the Living Rez the heft, movement and complexity of a novel ... There is so much beauty in these stories, but also heaviness ... What's most remarkable about the collection is the way Talty carefully guides readers to the book's climax. Each story reveals something new about David; small details from one story become life-changing events in another. In this way, the stories in Night of the Living Rez build on themselves the way a life builds: messily, unpredictably, with love and heartache and never quite in the way you expect.
Talty... inscribes his characters’ inner landscapes with the violence enacted upon their exterior landscapes, showing how difficult it is for them to flourish in such an environment ... There’s a restrained tenderness in Talty’s writing, and in how his characters show compassion ... Instead of relying on harmful tropes, Talty restyles them again and again, holding cultural assumptions up to a light box, then turning out the light.
Provides an unsparing perspective on the harsh reality of life in the Panawahpskek (Penobscot) Nation of Maine ... Bleak, but empathetic tales ... Ranging from grim to tender, these stories reveal the hardships facing a young Native American in contemporary America.