Author of the week
Sherman Alexie is ready to admit that his new memoir is wildly unfair to his recently deceased mother, said Alexia Nader in Kirkus Reviews. “I canonize my father and vilify my mother, and it’s spectacularly unfair,” he says. Alexie’s father, after all, was a lifelong alcoholic, while his mother, who overcame her own alcohol problem, was the more dependable parent and a pillar of the community in Washington state’s Spokane Indian Reservation. But Alexie’s mother was also cruel, volatile—the biggest bully he ever had to deal with. When she died at 78 in 2015, he started writing about her and couldn’t stop. “Grief makes you obsessive in a way I’ve never been obsessive before,” he says. He wrote 100 poems, then moved to stories. “My mom became a symbol of something much larger,” he says.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, Alexie’s 26th book, mixes poems, stories, and essays to tell the story of his upbringing in the context of a culture’s dissolution. It never offers forgiveness to its villain, said Alden Mudge in BookPage, but it “bubbles with humor” and puts her anger in context. Alexie’s mother was a child of rape and a rape victim herself. She also probably had bipolar disorder. Alexie credits her, in the end, as the wellspring of all his writing. “The big lie I’ve been telling in my autobiographical fiction is that my mother is not the source of my art,” he says. “My mother is the source of my art, period: all the love and forgiveness and the things I could never deal with—the rage, the cruelty, the towering arrogance.” ■