You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (457 pages)
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is A Gripping Memoir About the Complexities of Mother-Son Relationships
For many of us, the bond we have between our mothers and fathers is at best, loving and at worst, brutal. Generally, we can say that it steers one way or the other. But what if it’s both?
In Sherman Alexie’s memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, he tells us about the complicated woman that his mother Lillian was, and how she was both loving and cruel at the same time. The duality in the way she behaved tremendously affected their relationship, so much that he often hovered between admiration for her kind acts and hatred for the way she treated him.
Alexie’s parents are both Native Americans. His father was from the Coeur d’Alene tribe while his mother was Spokane. In his youth, they lived in HUD-approved housing that wasn’t exactly in the best condition. He described the shoddy ways in which the buildings were constructed as a preemptive to the broken relationship that he shared within those walls with his mother.
At home, Lillian was an eccentric woman who was often mean and cruel at times and tender and loving at other times. Interspersed between prose are lines of poetry that describe how Alexie felt about many things–the things that went on inside his home and the things that occurred outside of it.
Love, Loss and Reconciliation on the Page
In this memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, Alexie leaves nothing on the table about his mother. While he describes his father as a “shy and gentle man,” not capable of hurting anyone even when drunk, his mother was the opposite. She was wild, loud, and abrasive with her words. Sometimes, she’d belittle him while other times, she made huge maternal sacrifices for the sake of others. He didn’t quite understand how a woman can be both loving and cruel at the same time. And he was haunted by her ghost long after she was dead.
Alexie never reconciled with his mother prior to her death but in writing about her (and his childhood), he made us all aware of the many ways in which human beings are flawed. He made us aware that we’re all complex beings who may or may not have it all figured out. In the meantime, you can read this book because there are many great topics of conversation within it.
The Bottom Line: 5/5 Brookie Stars
I picked up this book thinking it was a standard grief memoir, but it ended up being so much more. The most surprising thing I discovered was the combination of prose and poetry, something I’d never seen in memoirs before. It made the book so much better. In a few lines, Alexie made me aware of how he felt, and the ghosts that haunt him, including the abuse he endured as a child on an Native American reservation. I finished the book quickly and felt chills afterward, as Alexie held nothing back. This memoir is for anyone who’s ever had a complicated relationship with their parent(s) and how to reconcile with that experience.
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