The latest from Alexie, a memoir, may be the author at, to coin a phrase, his Alexie-est. It is infuriating, repetitive, whiny, overbearing and we've heard much of it before. It is self-serving, self-centered, self-indulgent, and self-absorbed. It is Alexie at his worst.
But, and seemingly as ever, it is beautifully written and painfully raw. It is unnervingly tender, bravely confessional, absurdly funny, and utterly heart-breaking. It is Alexie at his best.
Having followed his career since first reading him in the second incarnation of Story magazine, regular Reed-ers know how much I love his work. This latest is an exploration of the difficult relationship between himself and his mother, Lillian. There is much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments along with the plaintive wail of "Mommy didn't love me!". Often, it appears she didn't.
One passage describes their relationship this way:
"...as her son and perhaps her most regular opponent, I only remember a little bit of my mother's kindness and almost everything about her coldness.
Did she love me? Did my mother love me? When I gather up all the available evidence, I have to say, "Yes, Lillian Alexie loved Sherman Alexie, Jr." But I can only render that verdict with reasonable doubts. "
There are statements like this throughout the book.
To me, this was Alexie actively grieving before my eyes and in my hands. He hurts.
There is also a physical component to all the mental anguish as he delves deeply into his own health issues (born with hydrocephalus, he suffered a host of maladies the reservation was ill-equipped to help with) and the very painful stories of repeated sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of people he knew well throughout his childhood. Nor does he let us forget the culture of racism, poverty, alcoholism, and violence that was ever-present.
Telling these stories repeatedly in public led the author to curtail his book tour this summer. Rehashing all this pain became too much for him to bear mentally and physically. When I read of this, my heart ached for him.
You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is no easy read nor is it a how-to in healthy suffering. To some, it might even be perceived as the author dropping the mic and walking away like all the kids do these days. However, those familiar with him know he could NEVER live without an audience or cease telling stories. All I can wish is that Alexie finds solace or a measure of peace sooner than later.
And if you can, call your Mom.