After her mother dies of a vicious withdrawal from drugs while homeless, the author collects her mother's documents, diaries, and photographs into a single suitcase and begins a journey of confronting her family, her harrowing past, and the decisions she's been forced to make.
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.
... 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.
... 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.