Tales of family and a community as they struggle with a painful past and an uncertain future. A boy unearths a jar that holds an old curse, which sets into motion his family's unraveling; a man, while trying to swindle some pot from a dealer, discovers a friend passed out in the woods, his hair frozen into the snow; a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's projects the past onto her grandson; and two friends, inspired by Antiques Roadshow, attempt to rob the tribal museum for valuable root clubs.
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.