Book Review: You Don't Have To Say You Love Me

Nov 3, 2017

I’m Connie Bennett, Director of Eugene Public Library, with a book review of “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” by Sherman Alexie. 

Following the death of his mother Lillian, from cancer in 2015, Sherman Alexie has written a raw, amazing, improbable, overwhelming, and difficult-to-read memoir: “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”  It’s constructed in an unusual format, part prose, part poetry, and pieced together in 160 quilt-like segments – with lots of white space.  And many of the themes will be already familiar from Alexie’s National Book Award winning young-adult novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”
In truth, his new work is such an unedited outpouring of raw grief and guilt that it’s almost an anti-book, at least in the usual sense.  Rather than carefully honed prose and a clear narrative arc, we get the repetitive drum beat of unfiltered and anguished emotion, liberally tinged with narcissism.  It’s not so much literature as unprocessed emotion. Each reader is invited to immerse himself, to take the book on its own terms or not at all, all of which makes it difficult to review in the usual way.  And of course we already knew it, but this man can write!  Even at his most repetitive and sentimental, the gush of words that pour out of him amazes me!  
In July, Alexie suddenly suspended the book tour.  His mother’s ghost was haunting him, he said, and he realized he needed to take a big step back and do most of his grieving in private.
He promises to return.  “My memoir is still out there for you to read. And, when I am strong enough, I will return to the road. I will return to the memoir. And I know I will have new stories to tell about my mother and her ghost. I will have more stories to tell about grief. And about forgiveness.”