You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is a marvel of emotional transparency, a story told with the fewest possible filters by a writer grieving the loss of a complicated mother ... Alexie's memoir is deliberately ragged, deliberately inflated, deliberately redundant. Alexie is a writer who will use a single word again and again in a single sentence or scene, like a drum beat; he is a writer who will, unabashed, present the same facts inside new frames. There are 160 numbered sections over the course of more than 450 pages, and sometimes the most poignant moments are contained in the chapter titles. Sometimes poignancy arises in the ways Alexie breaks out of a poem and into prose and back again, and sometimes in the juxtaposition between Alexie's pain and his mother's.
As a writer, Alexie wears his heart on his sleeve, his spleen in a go-cup and his cranium in a sleek postmodern headdress. He can be powerfully direct and plain-spoken. He speaks, for example, of hatred that 'felt as ancient as a cave painting.' He picks up many darkly interesting topics, such as anti-Indian racism delivered by Native Americans themselves. He can also be vivid and very funny ... His sentences often seem composed for the ear rather than the mind. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me has a talky, baggy quality, especially in its second half. What begins as speech ends in filibuster ... Like so many writers, and humans of all stripes, however, Alexie is a Möbius strip of self-loathing as well as egomania. As if to pre-empt criticism of his memoir, Alexie also speaks more than once about how he is famous, in his family, as a serial stretcher of the truth. Yet it’s a genuine drawback of this memoir that so little feels reported out and pinned down. The reader vaguely trusts Alexie emotionally. Factually? Hardly at all.
...a profoundly candid union of prose and poetry catalyzed by the recent death of his Spokane Indian mother, Lillian, one of the last to speak their tribal language, a legendary quilter, and a fighter to the end. Alexie’s deeply delving remembrance expresses a snarl of conflicting emotions, ranging from anger to awe, and reveals many tragic dangers and traumas of reservation life, from the uranium dust generated by nearby mines, which caused Lillian’s lung cancer, to the malignant legacy of genocide: identity crises, poverty, alcoholism, and violence, especially rape, in which the 'epically wounded . . . turned their rage' on each other. Alexie chronicles his own suffering as a boy born hydrocephalic and an adult diagnosed as bipolar, and tracks his flight from the rez and his life as a writer, pouring himself into every molten word. Courageous, anguished, grateful, and hilarious, this is an enlightening and resounding eulogy and self-portrait.