You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is a marvel of emotional transparency, a story told with the fewest possible filters by a writer grieving the loss of a complicated mother ... Alexie's memoir is deliberately ragged, deliberately inflated, deliberately redundant. Alexie is a writer who will use a single word again and again in a single sentence or scene, like a drum beat; he is a writer who will, unabashed, present the same facts inside new frames. There are 160 numbered sections over the course of more than 450 pages, and sometimes the most poignant moments are contained in the chapter titles. Sometimes poignancy arises in the ways Alexie breaks out of a poem and into prose and back again, and sometimes in the juxtaposition between Alexie's pain and his mother's.
As a writer, Alexie wears his heart on his sleeve, his spleen in a go-cup and his cranium in a sleek postmodern headdress. He can be powerfully direct and plain-spoken. He speaks, for example, of hatred that 'felt as ancient as a cave painting.' He picks up many darkly interesting topics, such as anti-Indian racism delivered by Native Americans themselves. He can also be vivid and very funny ... His sentences often seem composed for the ear rather than the mind. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me has a talky, baggy quality, especially in its second half. What begins as speech ends in filibuster ... Like so many writers, and humans of all stripes, however, Alexie is a Möbius strip of self-loathing as well as egomania. As if to pre-empt criticism of his memoir, Alexie also speaks more than once about how he is famous, in his family, as a serial stretcher of the truth. Yet it’s a genuine drawback of this memoir that so little feels reported out and pinned down. The reader vaguely trusts Alexie emotionally. Factually? Hardly at all.
...a profoundly candid union of prose and poetry catalyzed by the recent death of his Spokane Indian mother, Lillian, one of the last to speak their tribal language, a legendary quilter, and a fighter to the end. Alexie’s deeply delving remembrance expresses a snarl of conflicting emotions, ranging from anger to awe, and reveals many tragic dangers and traumas of reservation life, from the uranium dust generated by nearby mines, which caused Lillian’s lung cancer, to the malignant legacy of genocide: identity crises, poverty, alcoholism, and violence, especially rape, in which the 'epically wounded . . . turned their rage' on each other. Alexie chronicles his own suffering as a boy born hydrocephalic and an adult diagnosed as bipolar, and tracks his flight from the rez and his life as a writer, pouring himself into every molten word. Courageous, anguished, grateful, and hilarious, this is an enlightening and resounding eulogy and self-portrait.
...a fierce howl of pain and a dark hymn to Sherman Alexie’s immensely difficult, indomitable mother ... Like Lillian with her children, Alexie can exhaust us with his intensity, his inability to be pinned down, and his loquacious repetitiveness. But with his self-lacerating wit, his reckless candor, his gusto, he woos us back again and again. He swims in self-theatricality as his slippery medium; he is large; he contains multitudes. The Whitmanian appeal of his performance is wholly self-conscious — and largely winning ... Mystery, paradox, the currency of counterfeit secrets: The drama of not knowing is what we are left with in this searching, concealing, by turns hilarious and wrenching, vibrantly alive book.
For an author whose work in fiction and poetry is shot through with barely disguised personal elements, it’s, like, weird to get the story in a form that purports to be free of made-up stuff. Weird — but also inventively arranged, wonderfully told and always utterly heartwrenching ... You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” is a master symphony, a rock opera, a long jazz-fusion jam on the theme of pain of all sorts: physical, psychic, cultural, tribal, economic, historical, romantic, linguistic and on and on.
This long, episodic memoir consists of dozens of short, discursive chapters, some told in verse. It sometimes reads like first-draft material handwritten in a composition book, though the cumulative effect is far more substantial than that ... As ever, Alexie is obligingly funny, even when the subject matter seems anything but ... Alexie, who seems to be forever smiling, has a lightness, a pronounced mischievous side, that helps his tribal songs go down easier than maybe they should.
Alexie’s poems dazzle with narrative clarity and tend away from abstraction or lyricism. He favors ideas over sounds and moments over images, but barely ... In addition to more than a few outstanding poems, several prose chapters show Alexie at his best ... Throughout, Alexie is courageous and unflinching, delivering a worthy and honest eulogy by showing us his mother and himself in full, everything spectacular and everything scarred. As usual, he is brilliant, vulnerable, wry, polished and grateful, but also sometimes vindictive, petty, crass and obsessive.
His new memoir mixes short prose chapters with related poems. In both modes, he's compulsively readable, a literary writer with the guts of a stand-up comedian ... In piecing together his mother's history from the stories she told him and his siblings (and more than once he refers to her as a liar), Alexie concludes that both she and another family member were children of rape, leading to some of his soberest, open-ended reflections on how mothers would feel about children born from those incidents.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me sometimes repeats itself, because, as Alexie writes, 'Great pain is repetitive. Grief is repetitive.' Sure, but it doesn’t automatically follow that the literature of either needs to be ... For Alexie’s fans, the essence of his appeal is his scouring honesty. He’s not merely willing to tell people what they don’t want to hear; he leaps at the chance. Piety in every guise draws his fire ... does You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me deliver the heartwarming satisfactions of the sons’ memoirs that precede it? Not quite; if it succeeds, it will be on the strength of Alexie’s own eccentric charm.
There is a guileless, everything-but-the-kitchen sink quality to these pages that sometimes feels as if we are leafing through Alexie’s private notebooks ... Such unflinching honesty is a hallmark of this brave book. And despite its author’s evident fury — at being bullied, at social injustice, at abusive relatives — You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me reads warmly, as if Alexie is trusting us with his deepest hurts.
...[a] poignant, conflicted, raucous memoir ... Alexie treats this sometimes bleak material with a graceful touch, never shying away from deep emotions but also sharing wry humor and a warm regard for Native culture and spirituality. The text is rambling, digressive, and sometimes baggy, with dozens of his poems sprinkled in; it wanders among limpid, conversational prose, bawdy comic turns, and lyrical, incantatory verse. This is a fine homage to the vexed process of growing up that vividly conveys how family roots continue to bind even after they seem to have been severed.
Written in his familiar breezy, conversational, and aphoristic style, the book makes even the darkest personal experiences uplifting and bearable with the author’s wit, sarcasm, and humor. Despite some repetition, this is a powerful, brutally honest memoir about a mother and the son who loved her.