You Don't Have to Say You Love Me

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me

A Memoir

Book - 2017
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Presents a literary memoir of poems, essays, and intimate family photos that reflect on the author's complicated relationship with his mother and his disadvantaged childhood on a Native American reservation.
Publisher: New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2017
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780316270755
031627075X
Branch Call Number: B AL279A 2017
Characteristics: 457 pages ; 25 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

Through prose and poetry, Alexie grieves his mother’s death, considers her complicated legacy in his life and on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and reflects on his journey as a writer.

Nonfiction / Memoir.

A powerful memoir of writer Sherman Alexie's early life on the Spokane Indian Reservation and the devastating impacts of racism on his family relationships.

As one of our librarians wrote, Alexie "grieves loudly, clearly, honestly and with courageous vulnerability" in this memoir about his complex relationship with his mother and the Spokane reservation on which he grew up.


From the critics


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PimaLib_ChristineR Oct 31, 2018

Having followed Alexie's career practically from the start (his first book of poetry and first book of short stories came out while I was still an English undergrad and were required reading by the time I started graduate school), I went into You Don't Have to Say You Love Me with seriously mixed feelings. The fact that he had been caught up in the #metoo scandals made it difficult for me to even start the book. I was so angry at him for not being the person I expected him to be. The open person he portrayed himself as. But, You Don't Have to Say is still one of his best and most honest works...especially when he tells us that there are parts of himself that he will never reveal in his writing.

I found myself comparing this favorably to Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in a couple of ways. Like O'Brien, Alexie grapples with using fiction to bring the reader to a closer understanding of the truth. He also uses the same tool of repeating a phrase or a story for different purposes. While this is a memoir, in typical Alexie fashion, his writing is a mix of poetry, essays and other bits and pieces.

At one point he reflects back on his absence at his father's death. After speaking with his father over the phone he says "Twelve hours later, as I walked through a Seattle toy store with my sons, ages two and six, my sister called to tell me that our father had died. I paid for my sons' new toys, drove us home, and helped them into the house. Then as my wife held our boys, I collapsed to the floor of our living room and wept." His anger and grief over the death of his father, a life-long alcoholic, is a reflection of the anger and grief he feels over the death of his mother, a woman who seemed to have a kind side for everyone but her son.

Through this shared grieving process Alexie still gets in those words that grab us: "At my mother's funeral, my smartest Indian friend-the one who never went to college-corners me to deliver a metaphysical lecture." or "Who are the two funniest human beings who have ever lived? Richard Pryor before he caught himself on fire while freebasing cocaine, and Richard Pryor after he caught himself on fire while freebasing cocaine."

And he tries to understand his mother in the terms of not only being Native American but the violence that was perpetrated upon himself and his mother by other Native Americans, often family. He says three of his cousins "all three grew up to be rapists. Two of them have spent years in prison for their crimes. The third cousin has never been convicted of any felony, though he has raped more people than the other two combined." He describes the fear of family parties and knowing that rapists were allowed into their homes, allowed alone with their sons and daughters. In his poem, "The No," he says "So we must forgive all those/ Who trespass against us? / F*%^ that S#$!. / I'm not some charitable trust. / There are some people I will hate / Even after I'm ashes and dust." It is clear that his mother is not among those and he writes to find his way to forgiveness, even as he enumerates the many things that have been done to his mother, himself, his father, his sisters, and his tribe, that are unforgivable.

p
pokano
Oct 23, 2018

Highly readable memoir about the pain of being Sherman Alexie, born poor, hydrocephalic, with a host of other health problems and two alcoholic parents, although his mother sobered up during his childhood and remained so for the rest of her life. Besides being a brilliant writer, Alexie is an extremely complex and conflicted man, and this comes out in spades in this engrossing and apparently candid volume.

r
ryner
Feb 08, 2018

Written following the death of his mother in 2015, well-known writer Sherman Alexie opens up in this memoir about their difficult and fraught relationship, family secrets, his miserable childhood growing up on the Spokane reservation, and the inner demons with which he continues to wrestle as an adult. Though thought-provoking and eye-opening, this is also a painful and often distressing read. Catch his September 2017 interview on MPR for additional fascinating insights.

d
DorisWaggoner
Jan 21, 2018

I've read a couple of Alexie's novels and enjoyed them, and a few years ago heard him speak and enjoyed that even more. This memoir jarred me, in a positive sense. How could someone who suffered as he has come out the way he has? How could someone who hated his mother (for very good reasons) grieve her death so much? I've read a great deal about the history of Native Americans, and thought I new a lot. This book taught me more than everything else put together. Alexie lets it all hang out, and even though he describes himself, probably honestly, as a liar, he's a vulnerable liar, and I had to respect him. I'll be reading everything else of his that I can get my hands on.

v
vickmeister
Jan 02, 2018

The collective experience that Sherman Alexie shares about his life and those of his extended family in the Salish tribe is soaked in sorrow and justifiable outrage, even when you consider the author’s frequent and almost proud declaration of being an exaggerator and a liar. Unfortunately, his telling of the tales is a disjointed mess, jumping around from story to unrelated story sprinkled in between pages and pages of distracting narrative poetry. About midway through, Alexie shares a conversation with a relative who has read an earlier draft of the work, where he admits that the book is told like a patchwork quilt, a nod to his mother who created so many of them during her troubled, angry life. Considering the complicated, conflicted relationship that emerges between Alexie and his mother, perhaps this was the way he felt he had to tell it, in order for him to keep a distance from his own intense feelings. I found the format distracting and somewhat off-putting, keeping the reader at arms-length from the sad and often startling tales being told and preventing any real empathy to take hold. I finally gave up on it as I just couldn’t feel any connection, as much as I wanted to. It’s a shame that he chose this format, because told as a straight narrative this would have been an extremely powerful, moving story. Perhaps your experience will be different but I can’t really recommend it.

p
patcarstensen
Dec 29, 2017

No amount of joking, storytelling or using dirty words changes the fact that your mother has died.

m
marcrrussell
Dec 26, 2017

I found the prose passages to be even more poetic than his great poems...
I would read Ikea instructions, if written by this man!

vm510 Nov 30, 2017

Sherman Alexie's voice is so important and his style is so unique. I love his blending of humor, anger, resentment, and sadness. His work is bittersweet, devastating, and lighthearted all at once. I went from laughing one chapter to feeling my heart break the next. This book is sentimental. It also feels genre-bending because there is poetry interspersed. I think it is a wonderful addition to the memoir genre.

h
howiecat
Oct 30, 2017

Wonderful. Moving. He has a true gift.

o
ownedbydoxies
Oct 11, 2017

What do you do when your childhood is a mix of violence and fear and occasional moments of joy and humor, and you are a very talented writer of renown? Well, in his case, Sherman Alexie sat down and wrote this incredibly beautiful, often sorrowful, but also uplifting book. He has produced an incredible mix of prose and poetry (and I'm not always a fan of poetry, since often it leaves me impatiently trying to decipher it, but Alexie's is clear and precise) as a stunningly complex tribute to not only his mother, his father and siblings, but also to everyone who manages to survive a brutal childhood and a complicated adulthood and comes through it all intact both physically and emotionally. I give this book all the stars!

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ArapahoeMaryA Jan 17, 2018

We, the bipolar mother and her bipolar son, fought so often that all of the arguments blended into a terrifying yet predictable ride. My mother and I were roller-coasters on parallel tracks.


In 2015, as my mother lay dying of cancer in her reservation home, she asked my sisters and I to tell only her most trusted friends and relatives...My mother was a spy who treated her own death like a top secret-mission. Or maybe she was like a mad queen who believed only a few of her most loyal subjects deserved to know about her cancer. Or maybe she was terrified.
At her wake and funeral, … I'd wanted to say something epic and honest. But epics are rarely honest, and honesty should never be epic.

But as her son and as perhaps her most regular opponent, I remember only a little bit of my mother's kindness and almost everything about her coldness.

t
taylorwoods
Sep 23, 2017

"There are family mysteries I cannot solve. There are family mysteries I am unwilling to solve."

t
taylorwoods
Sep 23, 2017

Ah, friend, this world-this one universe-
Is already too expansive for me.
When I die, let my mourners know
That I shrugged at the possibility
Of other universes. Hire a choir-
Let them tell the truth
But tell it choral-
Let the assembled voices sing
About my theology:
I'm the fragile and finite mortal
Who wanted no part of immortality.

t
taylorwoods
Sep 23, 2017

Thing is, I don't believe in ghosts. But I see them all the time.

t
taylorwoods
Sep 23, 2017

My mother was a lifeguard on the shores of Lake F*cked.

t
taylorwoods
Sep 23, 2017

But a person can be genocided-can have every connection to his past severed- and live to be an old man whose rib cage is a haunted house built around his heart.

t
taylorwoods
Sep 23, 2017

Self preservation was my religion.

t
taylorwoods
Sep 23, 2017

Poverty was our spirit animal.

t
taylorwoods
Sep 23, 2017

I often wonder why I am the one who remember all the pain?

t
taylorwoods
Sep 23, 2017

In the indigenous world, we assign sacred value to circles. But sometimes a circle just means you keep returning to the same shit again and again. This book is a series of circles, sacred and profane.

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