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.