Book Review: Heart Berries, Terese Marie Mailhot

Book Review: Heart BerriesTerese Marie Mailhot

Memoir: Heart BerriesTerese Marie Mailhot

Terese Marie Mailhot is many things. A writer. A member of a First Nation who grew up on a reservation. A survivor of sexual abuse. A single parent. A foster child. Someone who has lived with mental illness, including hospitalization, pharmacological treatments, and therapy. MFA graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts. All of these things and more are told in sometimes harsh, grim, painful, honest, and raw detail in her memoir Heart Berries. This is not a memoir of triumph and conquest, “How I Overcame My Issues (And You Can, Too!).” This is a memoir of survival, a story of endurance, bereft of hope beyond making it through today.

 

Much of the book is written as a series of letters to “Casey.” Casey is revealed through these letters to be her lover, boyfriend, and father of her third child. During the course of these letters we learn about the author’s childhood, including reflections on being Indian, revelations of sexual abuse by her father, and later fleeing into a teenage marriage that produced two children and a world of heartache. The letters start when she is in the hospital for mental illness, struggling with the nature of her relationship to Casey, to the son who still lives with her, to the son who lives with his father, to her own parents, and to the world as a Native American woman.

 

As Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I think he may be selling both types of families short, but there is a measure of truth in the observation. Mailhot’s unhappiness stems from so many sources. Like many of us broken people, there is a degree of longing to be fixed: through medicine, through therapy, through relationships, through motherhood, through forgiveness. She recognizes, though, that some things cannot be fixed. You cannot fix sexual abuse. You cannot fix betrayal. You cannot fix failures with future successes. Time inexorably continues, and there’s no reversing course to undo the violence done to us or done by us.

 

What can be done, and what Mailhot seems to be doing, is choose to proceed. You cannot fix abuse. You can decide not to be defined by it. You cannot fix betrayal. You can decide whether or not to stay. You can decide whether or not to move forward. You cannot fix failure. You can decide to succeed in your academic pursuits, to publish groundbreaking work, to insist that your voice is worth hearing and speak your truth–however painful–into a world that too often ignores female and Native voices.

 

Heart Berries is not a book to read for comfort or solutions. There are none to be found here. This is a book, though, for honesty, for endurance, for anyone who has suffered. You’re not alone, your pain is real. Heart Berries does not offer a cheap grace or an easy victory. Instead it screams into the void, “I’m here and I matter!” The power of her voice eloquently testifies that Terese Marie Mailhot indeed is here, and matters.

Book Review: Heart BerriesTerese Marie Mailhot

Book Review: Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott Kelly

Book Review: Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott Kelly

 

Nonfiction Memoir: Many people were surprised to read that 7% of astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA had changed during his year in space. Among the surprised was Scott Kelly himself, who tweeted, “What? My DNA changed by 7%! Who knew? I just learned about it in this article. This could be good news! I no longer have to call @ShuttleCDRKelly my identical twin brother anymore.”

 

Fortunately (or not), Scott and Mark Kelly are still identical twins. The original headlines were misleading, a misunderstanding of early reports from yet unpublished studies comparing the twins during and after Scott Kelly’s year in space. Though his year in space may not have shuffled his DNA, it did provide a compelling backdrop to his memoir. Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of DIscovery, tells the story of that year. More, it tells the story of a man who challenged the odds and lived out his dreams.

 

Scott Kelly would not have been anyone’s pick to be a success in high school. An indifferent student and occasional troublemaker, he was turned down by most colleges. He credits the change in his life and direction to a book: The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. Reading about the first astronauts gave him a life goal: become an astronaut. He transferred to a university where he could participate in Naval ROTC and devoted himself to becoming a student and a Navy pilot.

 

Very often, successful people are portrayed as having been destined for success. Less often do we consider the obstacles and failures that come between us and our dreams. Scott Kelly’s memoir is honest, sometimes painfully so. He barely graduated from high school. His first year of college was so poor that he had to start again as a freshman when he transferred. He occasionally sabotaged his own opportunities by making poor choices, and more than once survived his own foolishness through luck or a timely intervention by a friend or family member rather than through his own efforts. That is not to say he did not deserve the success he achieved. But his story easily could have been one that ended badly, a life of missed opportunities and wasted potential. Most of us would not choose to read that story–but many of us have lived part of it ourselves.

 

After becoming a Navy pilot, Kelly’s career advanced and he was eventually chosen to become a space shuttle pilot. Once the space shuttle program ended, he went on to become part of the International Space Station mission, and in this role participated in a year-long mission along with cosmonaut Mikhail “Misha” Kornienko. The goal of this mission was to study the long-term effects of space on the human body.

 

Eventually, humans are likely to explore the solar system through manned missions. Even a mission to our closest planetary neighbor, Mars, would take more than a year in space before arriving. Given the changes human bodies experience during shorter times in space, it is still an unanswered question how well people would be able to function upon arriving at Mars. Kelly and Kornienko have proven that humans could survive a journey that long and could re-acclimate to gravity at the end of the trip. What remains uncertain still are the long-term effects of the journey. Hopefully the ongoing studies of these two men and others will prepare us for the next stage in human exploration.

Other Works Mentioned in Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery

The Right Stuff

Tom Wolfe

Nonfiction

Covers the early period of the US space program, Project Mercury, the first operational manned space flight program based on interviews with astronauts, their wives, test pilots, and other key personnel.

In 1983, a PG movie adaptation was made that won 4 Oscars. For more on the movie adaptation see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/the-right-stuff

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

Alfred Lansing

Nonfiction

The story of leadership and teamwork necessary to survive the crossing of Antarctica in 1915 by explorer Ernest Shackleton and his 27 men. Lancing used survivor interviews and personal diaries to create this account. Scott Kelly took a his copy of Endurance to the space station.

Gravity

A  2003 science fiction thriller rated PG-13 which won 7 Oscars and another 232 other awards or accolades. A dramatic story of two astronauts stranded in space. For more on this movie see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/gravity

The Martian

Andy Weir

Science Fiction

Assumed dead and abandoned, Mark Watney must find a way to let Earth know that he is still alive and find a way to survive until rescue. For more information on the book see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-martian

For more on the 2015 PG-13 movie adaptation which won Golden Globe awards for best picture and best actor, see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/the-martian

If you are going to have an astronaut movie marathon, it won’t be complete without the classic  Apollo 13 which won 2 Oscars and numerous other awards. Based on the true true story of NASA’s persistence and determination,  “Failure is not an option” to bring three astronauts back to earth after an accidental oxygen tank explosion on the way to the moon. For more on this movie see the review on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/apollo-13

 

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