Heart Berries: A Memoir
By Terese Marie Mailhot. Doubleday Canada, 160 pp, hardcover
In her internationally acclaimed new memoir Heart Berries, Terese Marie Mailhot delivers a devastating meditation on intergenerational trauma. On the pain of growing up Indigenous, poor, and female. Of needing escape, running, rarely finding refuge. Of not being seen.
“Nobody wants to know why Indian women leave or where they go,” Mailhot writes. “Our bodies walk across the highway from the dances of our youth into missing narratives without strobe lights or sweet drinks in our small purses, or the talk of leaving. The truth of our leaving or coming into the world is never told.”
The beauty of the moment that we are in right now in CanLit is that many of these stories are now being told—and with a brilliance that takes one’s breath away.
Mailhot began writing this book in a psych ward, where the nurses “smelled like their homes and lunches and living”. Suicidal over a breakup, she committed herself on two conditions: that she would make it home to spend Christmas with her son, and that the doctors there would allow her to write.
The resulting pages formed the foundation for this astounding debut, written as a letter to her then lover, now husband, the writer Casey Gray. The slim, poetic tome chronicles their love affair. But it also tells the story of a woman coming into her own as a writer. And facing a dark past and a debilitating mental illness.
Born into the legacy of residential schools, Mailhot, a member of the Seabird Island Band, was raised on a reserve near Agassiz. Her mother was a cynical social-justice activist who sometimes “had to lock herself away from the world”; her father was violent and frequently drunk. He was found in a hotel, beaten to death over either a prostitute or a cigarette.
Mailhot’s own trajectory includes foster care, a teenage marriage, divorce, losing custody of a child, and suicide attempts. In reading all this, though, one never forgets—not for one moment—her strength and tenacity. And dizzying talent.
Terese Marie Mailhot will join fellow author Chelene Knight for a reading in the Alice MacKay Room of the Vancouver Public Library on Monday (March 12).