A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
Say You Love Me: A Memoir. New
York: Little, Brown, 2017.
I once attended one of Mr. Alexie’s readings in Iowa City; it was for his most recent publication, The Toughest Indian in the World. He’s tall and lanky; at that time his hair was of medium length. Handsome. His performance was half stand-up act, for he is acerbically, wickedly funny, and half dramatic reading in which he voiced all the parts. Not only the parts written on the lines, but you could hear the voices of his ancestors in the background, encouraging this talented young man to voice the Indian truth.
Once again, in this painful but poignant memoir in which Alexie explores the relationship with his mother, he does not fail to delight, does not fail to sear our consciousness with the wrongs of our white ancestors. Just as his skin color condemns him, an innocent man, anyone with white skin must share the blame of our ancestors who ravaged the land and its native peoples as if it were all one prehistoric wellspring of riches. The book composed of 160 short chapters is NOT linear in structure; I do not think that is a particularly Indian way to tell a story. The author begins in 1972 when his family moves into a HUD home on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington, when the author is six years old. Some chapters are as short as a four-line poem. Other chapters are poems several pages in length (including one about his mother as quilter), each one a work of art in itself, enhancing a lyricism spread throughout the entirety of the book.
By beginning with an intimate description of the HUD house, Alexie gives us a double-edged view. On the one hand, the house represents a major step up for the family from the cramped quarters where they’ve lived before. The HUD house is not huge, but it does have a toilet, a bathroom, and that means a great deal to the family. Yet these new cramped quarters are an important metaphor for the Spokane Indian, whose entire tribe has been smothered, crammed into a piece of earth that represents a fraction of what it once owned. Alexie is always shoving against these boundaries of what white people expect of Indians, knowing their place. One must wonder how this nation would have developed if the white man had approached the Indians with respect and conceded to their wishes. If the white man had purchased land instead of stealing it, what then? If the white man had formed a government with native Americans instead of one that killed them off, what would we have today? Would any of us be here?
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