Sherman Alexie is the first writer of color that I ever read besides Frederick Douglass, and I didn’t read him until college. He and his writing have been immensely influential and this book about his mom completely captivated me.
Sherman writes about his mother Lilian as more than just a mom—he writes about her as the complex person that she was. He does not romanticize those complexities and they shouldn’t be and that’s okay. This is what makes this book so honest and compelling.
He writes about his mother’s lies and how they seemed to grow even after she said them. He also writes about her temper and anger and her almost indifference towards him at times. There was a time when they did not speak to each other. She was verbally and physically abusive. She was toxic in ways that I’m sure no one wants or deserves.
But even with all of this, Sherman writes lovingly about his mother. He writes about the times when she sacrificed some of herself for her kids. How she gave up drinking and essentially saved her and her kids’ lives. He writes about her quilting and how it not only became a source of income but a small act of survival, of resilience.
They may seem like different people at times, but the raging, even vindictive, mother was the same mother that quilted memories and safety together. I know that because I have a mother like this. A mother that in one moment hugs you with her life and the next threatens to end it. The trauma behind that is important to acknowledge and Sherman does just that.
Although they may be the most difficult things to write about, rape and sexual abuse, if someone wants to, need to be talked about. Sherman writes about his own experiences with that and touches on what is not a 100 percent clear experience his mother had. The details are not super important to us as readers because it is not our trauma to heal from. However, the fact that Sherman writes about it is so important because it begins the healing process, a process that may or may not have an end. And it certainly makes those of us who have personally or know someone who has experienced something like that feel less alone.
Trauma is the reason Lilian was who she was and that is what Sherman grapples with in this book. On top of that, Sherman writes about his personal traumas growing up on the reservation as a poor brown kid that got out by going to the white school off the reservation, which brought on traumas of its own.
Essays and poems “quilted” throughout the book provide a perfect balance of telling and reflection. A lot of the good and bad about Lilian Alexie are also quilted with the ways it has affected Sherman’s life. While he understands that his mother’s trauma made her the way she was, his feelings about everything are still valid.
I feel as though I cannot properly review this book because it was revelaing to my own life and to my relationship with my mother. Seeing how things ended with Sherman and his mother and knowing, sadly, that mine could end the same way doesn’t exactly make me want to rate this book. Although, I’m sure that just by reading this, the rating is obvious:
5 out of 5