Books: Sherman Alexie

🕔Mar 09, 2018

The best way to explain Sherman Alexie’s new memoir is to tell you about its eighteenth chapter. In it, he describes in terrible detail his propensity for dealing with grief by, well, visiting the little boys’ room. The book centres around the death of his mother, and this chapter ushers us into the close confines of the funeral home’s toilet as he handles his mother’s send-off, while taking care of his sadness in his own particular way.

“As I squatted on the old toilet, I wept for the first time since my mother died. And then I shat. I wept and shat. And, yes, I am famously gifted as a weeper and a shitter.” It is a moment simultaneously hilarious, disgusting, honest, and heartbreaking.

As is the rest of the book. Not only dealing with personal grief and loss, Alexie—a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene-American based in Seattle or, as he puts it, “an urban Indian”—writes about racism, reconciliation, addiction, poverty, love, and plenty more. Through it all, he unflinchingly reveals himself to the reader, constantly questioning his motives and pointing out his own inconsistencies. A mixture of prose and poetry, the book covers a lot of ground, and a lot of history.

For those who don’t know Alexie already, start with The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, his 1993 collection of short stories that inspired the cult classic film Smoke Signals. And when you’re done, read this one. So much in this book is relevant right now: to our communities, to our lives, and to our personal growth.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me should be a sad book. It isn’t. It’s a touching tribute. A cautionary tale. And a very, very funny read.

  — Matt J. Simmons