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You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir

Review

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir

Sherman Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian writer from Wellpinit, Washington, where he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He is best known for such titles as THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN and FLIGHT. He has written critically acclaimed poems, novels and short stories, and now has bestowed upon his readership a memoir.

Alexie’s mother died from small-cell cancer on July 1, 2015. The memoir Alexie wrote as a result of her death follows a grieving son as he tries to come to terms with the tumultuous relationship he had with his abusive yet affectionate mother, Lillian. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME is an unflinching memoir composed of poems, reflections and stories revealing flashbacks from Alexie’s childhood growing up on the reservation to his present struggle to forgive his mother. Lillian Alexie was as complex as she was ferocious. She was the type of woman who would throw a soda can at her son’s hydrocephalic head but would also give food from her family’s limited supply to help an even poorer family.

"This is unlike any other memoir I’ve ever picked up. Alexie’s writing is raw, funny, smart and unapologetic. His use of metaphor expertly crafts a visual to accompany his stories that leave them unforgettable."

Alexie believes his mother saved his life twice. First, in 1973 when Lillian quit drinking after a violent New Year’s Eve party. And again, in 1979 when she agreed to let Alexie leave the reservation and attend school in Reardan. These decisions allowed him not only to survive, but to become the writer he is today. However, this memoir isn’t limited solely to reflections about his mother. Her death is the center from which his writing revolves around. He discusses some of his most traumatizing and profound moments of his life, from being bullied and abused on the reservation to his most recent brain surgery. He doesn’t shy away from the topics that have plagued his life, such as alcoholism, racism, colonialism and rape culture.

In the book’s final chapters, Alexie reveals that the child who appears on the cover with Lillian is not him, as most readers would assume, but his older half-sister, Mary, who, in 1981, was killed in a trailer fire with her husband; she was only 27. In the six months leading up to her death, Lillian had also lost her brother and mother. After listening to his mother’s desperate wailing at Mary’s funeral, Alexie believes something broke inside of her. Both women, Lillian and Mary, are believed to be products of rape, which Alexie learns while conducting his research for this book. He arduously struggles to understand his mother and the anger she inflicted on him and those around her. In his quest to forgive her, Alexie remembers the violence and pain that she came from and endured. He also recalls the violence and pain that have been committed against his tribe for generations.

Alexie unconventionally starts YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME by asserting himself as an unreliable narrator and simply a storyteller. He doesn’t construct a linear memoir as most are framed. He also doesn’t follow one style of writing. The memoir jumps from one story to the next; from the past to the present; from poetry to prose. Alexie shares a conversation he had with his wife after she read his book for the first time. She compares its construction to the fabric squares from which his mother had constructed for years her famous quilts --- the same quilts that at times were the family’s only source of income. Alexie admits that he only realized he had “constructed a quilt of words” after reading it for the first time. Then he saw the patterns and repetition, which play a major role in his storytelling. He often repeats words, lines and stories to demonstrate their impact and meaning.

This is unlike any other memoir I’ve ever picked up. Alexie’s writing is raw, funny, smart and unapologetic. His use of metaphor expertly crafts a visual to accompany his stories that leave them unforgettable. I highly recommend YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME to both fans of the author and newcomers. For those familiar with Alexie’s work, his memoir will add insights into their favorite stories and will lead to epiphanies about one of their favorite writers. For first-timers, the book will welcome you into his world and compel you to pick up more of his work immediately after turning the last page.

Reviewed by Catherine Rubino on June 15, 2017

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir
by Sherman Alexie

  • Publication Date: June 13, 2017
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 031627075X
  • ISBN-13: 9780316270755