A daughter returns home to the Navajo reservation to confront her family's troubled history and retrace her mother's life—using both narrative and archive in this unforgettable and heart-wrenching memoir.
After Danielle Geller's mother dies of a withdrawal from alcohol during a period of homelessness, she is forced to return to Florida. Using her training as a librarian and archivist, Geller collects her mother's documents, diaries, and photographs into a single suitcase and begins on a journey of confronting her family's history and the decisions she's been forced to make, a journey that will end at her mother's home: the Navajo reservation.
Geller masterfully intertwines wrenching prose with archival documents to create a deeply moving narrative of loss and inheritance that pays homage to our pasts, traditions, heritage, the family we are given, and the family we choose.
Some memoirs, especially those depicting difficult childhoods are by their nature difficult to read. This was not easy to read right from the first pages, and if you find the first pages of this as gut wrenching as I did, be prepared. When Geller goes back in time piecing together her mother’s life, recounting her own life, her father’s alcoholism and imprisonments, her sister’s alcoholism and imprisonments, her own mental health issues, her struggle to get through it all, it gets worse, much worse. Geller comes from a dysfunctional family and had such a sad childhood, as she and her sister are abandoned by her alcoholic mother and live with their alcoholic father, until their grandmother gets custody of her at five and and her sister at three. Disappointment after disappointment, from one home to another, these sisters had an unstable life to say the least. This is an alcoholic family- her mother, her father, her younger sister, her grandmother, though fortunately recovering and saving Danielle and her sister Eileen at various times in their lives . This felt repetitive at times, not because she told the same stories of her family, but because the same things happened over and again. Geller narrative is interspersed with the photographs, cards, drawings, diary entries that her mother kept. A heartbreaking, but hopeful story about how she moves herself forward by using her skills as a librarian to catalog her mother’s things, by going back to her mother’s roots on the reservation, finding more of her mother and herself.
I received a copy of this book from One World through NetGalley.
Danielle Geller unravels her family’s troubled lives in this heart-wrenching memoir. After her mother Laureen “Tweety” Lee dies from alcohol withdrawal, she takes her mother’s belongings “packed into eight suitcases” and begins a self-discovery journey. She weaves in her personal story from childhood as she tries to find out more about her mother’s past from Laureen’s departure from a Navajo reservation at age 19.
Danielle Geller shares her dark memories of her childhood with us, being abandoned by her mother and father to their addictions, her journey in finding herself, and finding a way to make peace with her family’s path. Her memoir is beautifully written with her quiet tone however, her story is heavy. A good part of her memoir tells us about her family’s addictions and her troubled relationships with them as she shares with us her struggles with her father and sister’s addictions with alcohol, who come and go from her life as they are drawn into the relentless cycle of addiction. It weighed heavy on me, and I wanted to look away from the story. I would have liked to know more about Danielle Geller’s journey. The beauty in her story is her strength in her caring, quiet words as she carries that weight, her path to self-discovery and healing as she unravels her mother’s destructive path.
I struggled with her writing flow that felt choppy and distant with her telling us her family’s story, and I wanted to feel more connected to her by seeing her story. However, this is Danielle Geller’s personal story, and that is a “me thing.”
I picked this memoir wanting to read something about the Navajo Nation. So, imagine my surprise when the first ⅓ of the book takes place in my home county of York, PA. In fact, only a small portion of the book takes place on the reservation, first when Dani returns for a memorial service for her mother and later for some short visits with her cousin, aunt and grandmother. Dani Geller did not have any easy childhood or youth. The child of two alcoholics, she was passed between her father and grandmother; her mother never well enough to have custody. As she gets older, she begins to have her own mental health issues. Her sister is even worse off, a drug user, in and out of juvenile detention, foster homes, boot camps, ending up roaming the country. This is a dark book, unrelentingly so. Dani never gives up on family. Hers is the opposite of tough love. She’s an enabler, constantly taking both her sister and father in. I kept waiting for someone to have an epiphany. Instead, the use and abuse just continues. I felt sorry for Dani and her family, but I struggled to connect. The book shows the unfortunate cycle of substance abuse between generations. My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.
"You cannot wake a person who is pretending to be asleep." (Navajo Proverb)
Danielle Geller presents her heart-wrenching memoir revisiting life as she knew it growing up on a Navajo reservation. As the story unfolds, we will experience the deep imprint of her childhood and young adulthood leaving its jagged edges in those tender places. Geller recalls those moments of abuse, abandonment, hopelessness, and the gnawing desire for affirmation in her world painted with upheaval and constant insecurities.
A phone call comes through informing Danielle that her mother, Lauren Tweety Lee, is dying in a Florida hospital. Danielle is torn by the weight of it. It wracks her soul to revisit the agony of the downward spiral of a life thrown to the castaway winds. But she makes the decision to go and to stand before this constantly deteriorating altar of motherhood. Tweety left Danielle and her two sisters, Eileen and Alexandra, forever in the throes of alcoholism and the swinging door of available men. The girls were tossed between life with their alcoholic father and life with their stern grandmother.
Danielle begs Eileen to accompany her to Florida. But true to herself, Eileen has a myriad of excuses. She also faces a broken probation in Montana. Eileen took to the road many years ago and hasn't looked back.
And it's a waterfall of regrets and dark memories that reach out to Danielle as she comes face-to-face with her mother in that hospital bed. And what she is left with is a tattered suitcase that belonged to Tweety stuffed with letters, receipts, diaries, and photos depicting a life that stopped short at forty-nine.
The irony of life is that Danielle had broken free and became a library archivist after much struggle in her young adult years. But how would she make sense of all this personal memorabilia before her? It would be months before she could bring herself to lift the lid and shine light upon its contents. Those slips of paper would catapult her into the past once again.
Dog Flowers is heavy. Make no mistake about it. If you're looking for a feather-light read, then this one is not for you. Dog Flowers opens our eyes to the shaky set of cards that we have been dealt. Circumstances lean hard on some of us no matter what. The very ones who should have our backs are the very ones who can doom us to a repetitive life of much the same. Intervention often arrives on the midnight train, or sadly, not at all. It's a reminder of how ineffectively the stars are all aligned.
Dog Flowers is written in a no-frills fashion and Geller makes no bones about that. But Dog Flowers is a poignant reminder of gems unable to allow the sun to shine through.
I received a copy of Dog Flowers through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Random House and to Danielle Geller for the opportunity.
“You’re an alcoholic,” grandma would tell me, even when I was very young. “You just haven’t had your first drink.”
Danielle Geller tells her personal story through this heart wrenching and touching memoir. She is trying to find a trace of meaning in her mother’s life of alcohol and men. She is also searching for a sense of self, of family, of belonging. Danielle returns to her deceased mother’s Navajo reservation to piece together her mothers broken life through personal journals, belongings and family stories. Danielle’s mother lived an extremely rough life of alcoholism, men and homelessness. Danielle’s father faced the same demons with alcohol and floated in and out of Danielle’s life. Danielle and her younger sister Eileen were raised mainly by their grandmother.
What a heartbreaking memoir. What this author has lived through is gut wrenching. It is a very tough read. The endless cycle of alcoholism, drugs, poverty, jail and homelessness was heartbreaking. This book is brutally honest, eye-opening and raw. Alcoholism ran deep through their family - every generation filled with anger, frustration and the limitations of alcoholism and drug addiction.
I found similarities to Jesse Thistle’s memoir, From The Ashes, although this was not as polished. The story is powerful and eye-opening but I found the writing lacked flow and was repetitive. Upon reflection I wonder if the choppy writing was the intention of the author as her entire childhood and young adult life was a vicious circle of instability.
The book focus was on Danielle trying to connect with her mother’s past, but I found the relationship between Danielle and her sister Eileen to be most impactful. The vicious circle of drugs and alcohol that kept the sisters from truly bonding and kept Danielle hanging on and hopeful for a different outcome for her sister was gut wrenching. I felt for Danielle.
I imagine the writing of this book would have been therapeutic for the author. I appreciate her honesty in presenting her family struggles to the world and hope this can be helpful to others who may be able to relate to her situation.
As sad as this book is, I found it hopeful. Though Danielle’s hope was crushed time and time again, she never completely lost her longing for a better life for her family and herself.
3 ½ stars (rounded up because this book was a sucker punch)
Dog Flowers is a relentlessly unsparing and depressing account of a dysfunctional family grappling with addiction, trauma, mental illness, and abuse. This memoir opens with Danielle Geller’s mothers' death. Geller’s mother was homeless when she died of withdrawal from alcohol, and Geller is forced to return to Florida to sift through her mother’s possessions. Using her archivist skills she ends up reaching out to her mother’s side of the family, aside she’s been estranged from, and visits them in their home in the Navajo Nation, where she learns more about her mother’s history and her Navajo heritage. Alongside these sections that follow Geller as an adult, there are chapters delving into her disrupted childhood, which often honed in on a particular episode. After her parents, both addicts split up, Geller and her sister go on to stay with their father. Their father, who is white, is an alcoholic whose emotional abuse of his children goes on to become physical when he assaults Geller’s sister. Geller recounts with disturbing clarity his erratic behaviour, for example of the way he would harangue them, telling them the same tired stories from his own childhood and adulthood, fixating on the wrongdoings he’s been subjected to. Although it's been years since I’ve shared a roof with my father, reading Dog Flowers was an uncomfortable reminder of just how overwhelming it can be to have (and live with) a parent with substance abuse issues. And boy, does Danielle Geller capture how devastating it is on a young person to be exposed to this kind of chaotic and vitriolic presence. It was distressing just how much of my father I recognised in Geller’s own one so reading these sections was by no means an easy activity. Geller and her sister eventually end up in the custody of their grandmother but things take a downward turn as Geller’s sister begins to ‘act out’. Geller’s prose is unsentimental and matter-of-fact, even when discussing traumatic episodes. In many ways, this memoir reads like a long list of tragedies. Geller’s mother, father, and sister all struggle with addiction and mental illness. Geller is exposed from an early age to emotional, physical, and self-abuse. Neither of her parents is capable or willing to look after her and her sister, and their attempts at sobriety and lucidity are short-lived. If anything, their attempts at a ‘normal’, or at least ‘stable’, life just give Geller (and us the readers) false hopes as they inevitably fall off the wagon. Time and again Geller has to look after them, often with little choice on her part as they emotionally manipulate her into helping them out. All of this sadly hit too close to home. When I saw some reviewers expressing surprise or shock that Geller would not cut ties with her ‘toxic’ family, well, I can’t help but think that their family situation may not be as dysfunctional as Geller’s. There are people out there who are able to cut off ties with their abusive parents or siblings. But, more often than not, you are unable or unwilling to cut someone off. Especially if you start questioning whether many of their ‘vices’ stem from trauma or mental illness. And again, hope. You hope that they will get clean, get a steady job, or lead a ‘normal’ life. And, in Geller’s case, well, all of her closest relatives have struggled with addiction. Is she going to cut them all off?! It was saddening to see that Geller’s relationship with her Navajo side of the family is far from idyllic or rosy. While her connection to her cousin struck me as moving, her relationship with her aunt was saddening indeed as she is revealed to be a woman who is full of anger and sadly seems to turn this anger towards her relatives. There is a lot of pain in this memoir. Geller captures with gut-wrenching clarity the realities and aftermath of a childhood marred by neglect, abuse, addiction, and trauma. Geller’s forays into her own past are brutally honest and are not accompanied by ‘moral’ lessons or ‘wise’ insights into human nature. I appreciated Geller’s honest depiction of her family and, more importantly, herself. While Dog Flowers deeply resonated with me, I did find its execution early on a bit clumsy. The author introduces too much too soon, and I wasn’t sure what had happened when. The ending too seemed a bit abrupt, and I would have appreciated more insight into Geller’s life (her friends, partners, work, etc..). Nevertheless, I found this a powerful and piercing read. It is by no means an easy read and I did find much of what Geller recounted to be extremely distressing, then again, I was also able to relate to many of her experiences. I appreciated that she neither villainizes nor condone her parents nor her sister and that in delving into her past she tries to understand their motivations or states of mind, even if ultimately, much about their identities remains a mystery or incomprehensible to her. Geller’s memoir is a haunting account of a family mired in pain. If you are looking for a challenging read, well, buckle up because Dog Flowers is it. Geller's portrayal of her family disrupts the myth of the happy family and the widely held belief that parents love their children. While there is love in this memoir it is often obfuscated by years of self-destructing behaviour and or by hatred, sadness, and weakness.
Miigwech @oneworldbooks for this book. (CW addiction)
“Some days, I believe I should have buried her suitcase in Dale’s garden—lost these histories forever in Florida’s black earth.
Most days, I do not believe I know how to care for my mothers ghost.”
Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller (Navajo) really hit close to home.* It is a strong recommendation from me & is one of the most striking memoirs I’ve read. I had to read this one slowly but was engrossed every time I picked it up. Geller writes of growing up disconnected from her reservation, with two parents & a sister lost in their addictions & the feeling of hopelessness & suffocation that often comes with having addiction be firmly rooted in your family tree.
Geller is an archivist & the archival aspect of this memoir really added to its aforementioned depth. We see photos, bits of her mother’s diaries. It was a fully blossomed memoir on identity, addiction, trauma, family ties, reconnecting & finding home.
*I felt many emotions as I read. I knew those quiet moments of watching your mother lay dying in a hospital room. I missed my mom. I pulled out her diaries. Receipts. CDs. ID cards: drivers licenses, video store memberships. I’ve never known how to organize these items.
Childhood memories returned. Going to the rez when my mom & dad would split, when it was just the 3 of us. I was 4 when my grandpa took my mother by the shoulders & said, “that’s enough Alice. That’s enough.”
How during the summer while my mother answered phones in an office, I went to the vendor with my dad. One time I fell off my bike & he didn’t notice. I wanted to throw the cans that fell around me at his head.
That relief when he quit drinking one New Years Day.
Right down to the yellow cruiser Geller writes of. Last summer I bought a used grey bicycle & painted it yellow. I flew around this town in search of something. Maybe for answers on how to cope with a sister lost in a 6 year battle with meth.
Dog Flowers is Danielle Gellers story. It is not mine. But it offered companionship, proof that my struggles are not a weight only I have felt. That we can create a safe home, there is healing to be found.
"I learned very young that my mother was someone not to be trusted -- that she would break my heart if I let her."
Danielle Geller and her sister were raised primarily by her paternal grandmother. Both of her parents struggled with alcoholism and as a result she was placed with her father's family. So she heard all of these things about her mother and because she lived apart from her, she came to believe this side of the story. Then one day she gets the call that her mother is in the hospital dying. She's had a heart attack as a result of withdrawal. She tried to quit cold turkey on her own and the DTs brought her to death's door. When Danielle goes to see her in these last and final days she is not able to talk with her mother. She's already too far gone.
Upon leaving her mother's side she inherits these eight suitcases which contain all of her mother's possessions. The last one has letters and cards and pictures along with her mother's journals. Being a librarian and an archivist Geller takes this treasure with her and as she is culling through it she tries to reconcile with the memory she has of her mother. Her mother obviously isn't this woman who her father's family depicted. She's obviously not this woman that she holds in her memories that are few and far between. Most of these are unreliable as they are tainted by youth, slippery and vague. Here in this box is the woman who her mother thinks she is. So Geller is pressed to put all of these different versions of her Mom into some type of whole so she can get a better sense of who her mother is. In doing so, she can get a better sense of who she is.
"You are an alcoholic. You just haven't had your first drink yet." This is a common phrase in the rooms where they say that adult children of alcoholics have the "isms" without the alcohol. The behaviors and dysfunction are perpetuated and repeated from one generation to the next. Within an alcoholic family members take on specific roles: "The Hero", "The Scapegoat", "The Caretaker" . . . Danielle Geller was the caretaker and in that role she found herself continually taking in her alcoholic father and addict sister even as they cycled through recovery and relapse. Through all of those years of fixing everyone else's messes Geller, as caretaker, rarely thinks of taking care of herself. As a result she suffers from mental illness. She goes through years accepting that she is not going to be happy. Her dreams and visions for her future include being a spinster and a lone wolf in the desert. On her journey to finding her way out of this perpetual cycle of alcoholism she goes back to her mother's home on the Navajo reservation. She learns that the Navajo way is that we are all sisters of the same clan. That elder is your aunt or your grandmother. No matter how unclear the ties, if your of this clan we are all family.
Finally she finds peace and happiness with her husband Owen.
When I first picked up this book I was under the impression that it would be an epistolary memoir with notes and letters between mother and daughter within the chapters. But where you find Tweety Lee's words is in the footnotes. It took me a while to figure out Geller's reason for writing it this way. Then it came to me. Even though this book is about Geller discovering who her mother was, this is still Danielle's story. Her mother's voice is just there to inform her narrative. The spotlight should be on Danielle as she learns to deal with her codependency and enabling of these addicts within her family. This book is about her breaking the cycle and breaking free so that she can have happiness of her own.
"I cannot forgive my father; forgiveness risks too much. My mother chose my father, and men like him, and I must make another choice. I must choose my sisters."
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.
The thing about reviewing and rating another person's memoir is that it is so personal and raw for anyone to put their story out there for all the world to read. So I do feel like a bit of a heel to rate it so low. However, I have to stay faithful to the way I review and although I read the entire memoir, I really wanted to give up around 30%.
Goodreads review published 12/01/21 Publication Date 12/01/21
This is an excellent memoir of a rough life and a difficult family. It begins when Danielle Geller’s mother dies: they hadn’t spoken in several months, and the mother, having argued with her boyfriend’s roommates, had moved out of his house and was sleeping in a park with a friend. Sadly, this sort of behavior was far from exceptional in Geller’s family, where trauma is reliably passed from one generation to the next in a cycle of abuse, abandonment and addiction.
Nevertheless, it’s a well-written memoir that shows a great deal of restraint. For some reason, though I usually struggle with novels focusing on contemporary family drama, I love thoughtful, literary memoirs about people’s messy families. And I’d put this one in that category, though there’s less of Geller’s feelings and analysis than I usually prefer: her storytelling is factual and unadorned. But many of these events are extreme enough to need no adornment, and Geller develops the emotion in subtle ways, implicit in her inclusion and framing of events. And there’s enough information to read between the lines about what’s going on with these folks; I felt particularly for her sister Eileen, whose sensitivity to their mother’s abandonment from a young age presages the addiction she ultimately develops.
Geller trained as an archivist, and the inclusion of family photos is a nice touch, though I was sometimes confused about how these were chosen. It’s fair to say that the book is more about her own journey than about her mother, though the two are naturally intertwined: after her mother’s death, Geller visits the Navajo reservation to meet her extended family and learn more about her heritage. Unfortunately, and all too commonly, her mother left chaos at home only to find and recreate the same elsewhere, but Geller herself ultimately arrives in a far more stable place.
Overall, not a happy memoir but an accomplished one that portrays life in a chaotic, dysfunctional and impoverished family with little judgment or sentimentality. Her rendering of her own journey and her family’s feels thoughtful, authentic, complex, and closely-observed, while the writing is artful in a way that pulls the reader along rather than distracting from the story. I read the whole short book very quickly, putting aside the other ones I had going on! I would happily read more from this author and hope that she has a prolific career ahead of her. Meanwhile, those who liked this would also probably enjoy Crux, and vice-versa.
I love when books are in conversation with each other because after I finished Dog Flowers I picked up "A Cup of Water under my Bed" by Daisy Hernandez and it seemed to answer so many questions I had about Danielle Geller's memoir. I adore writers that open themselves up and allow us into the deepest recesses of their lives, their vulnerabilities, the imprints of their lives that have shaped who they are. This narrative jumped from present to past all the while interspersed with journal entries from Geller's mother. We try to understand her past along with her to archive her mother's life and make sense of the present. I love that Geller was such a striking writer and it shows how much she loves, how much she cares, and how much of herself she is willing to give to readers. With that in mind I think we should ponder what a gift this book is and how lucky we are to read it.
A truly heartbreaking and devastating memoir of the destruction and tragedy caused by alcoholism and addiction. It made me think a lot about the responsibility we often feel for people we shouldn't and how hard it is to break free from the people tied to us - through blood or otherwise - when all they've ever done is break your heart and make your life harder.
Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller is almost certainly not the Indigenous memoir most people will expect it to be. Geller, a Diné (Navajo) woman who grew up in Florida and Pennsylvania away from her homeland, documents with haunting starkness the frequent instability of her childhood, the death of her mother, and the costs addiction and violence take upon children. Needless to say there is a lot of pain within the pages of this memoir and there is little of the cultural tourism I suspect many people want or expect from Indigenous authors. Instead, we get a story of perspective, of piecing together lines and life. What we learn is the way addiction and violence are cyclical, repetitive beasts that become mundane in their breathless ability to make create a routine. Particularly, we learn what life is like for those who love and often feel induced to caregive for those who are struggling with substance abuse.It’s important to note here that this memoir is loving, is raw, and is both compelling and hard to look away from. Geller asks us to witness her history, the history of her mother, the history of her father and sisters.
Geller’s use of “the archive” is both intriguing and haunting. As you move through this memoir you see the construction of a familial archive, an archive of grief and of remembrance and presence. She pieces together her mother’s diaries, photographs, and her own memories to trace her mother’s absence from her childhood on. In that way, we watch as Geller tries to see things the way her mother might have, we watch as she tries to reconcile what may not be reconcilable. I found her use of [almost]footnotes to be a frequently effective mechanism. Buried at the bottom of many pages, in smaller font, Geller tells another story lodged within her own recountings and the effect is both academic and profoundly powerful even if their direct relation to the main body of text requires you to slow and consider.
There's a lot in this memoir that destroyed me, things I find hard to talk about, but remain with me the nonetheless. Know going in that this is not an easy book. Major CONTENT WARNINGS for addiction, alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual assauly, parent-child relationships, and death.
I read a review copy, and if what I read is what ends up being published, then I cannot recommend this book. As is, it needs serious editing and plenty of rewriting.
The writing came across as disjointed, jumping from time and place, as well as person to random person with little to no introduction or even explanation. As a reader, I got no real insight into Gellar's thoughts and feelings, past or present, and I certainly didn't get to go on a journey of discovery with her. It was so frustrating.
This exercise of writing might be cathartic for the the author, but what I read does not meet the basic criteria of a book ready for publication.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley
This memoir by Geller explores her upbringing and the emotions the death of her mother uncovers. She talks about getting to know many of her family members after the passing of her mother, and of her relationships with them. The book tells many small stories that are often tragic, but Geller seems detached. The emotions these events should have evoked don’t come through. The timeline for the book is a bit jumbled; this is a non-linear story. I give this book 2 stars. I simply didn’t feel involved in the tragedy that Geller has experienced. Her style of writing feels disjointed to me, halting and emotionless. Her descriptions of emotions experiences are there, but the feelings themselves never visited me. Maybe memoirs are not for me. This book was a NetGalley gift from the publisher, Random House - One World. The opinions shared in this review are my own and I have received no compensation in exchange for offering them.
Danielle Gellar’s memoir was a bit different from what I was expecting, but I found I was very much invested in how she moved on with her life after growing up in such a dysfunctional family.
It’s sad to think that such an unstable family situation is what some children know as normal and this was the case with Gellar’s family. Alcoholism and brief stints in jail become somewhat of a regular occurrence. Raised mainly by their paternal grandmother, Danielle and her sister manage to keep a connection with their parents, even though they see them sporadically.
Danielle’s mother was raised on a Navajo reservation, but left as a young woman and seemingly abandoned her heritage, having little contact with her family remaining on the reservation. As a result, Danielle and her sister are only able to fill in the blanks after their mother has passed away.
There wasn’t as much information about the Navajo traditions and life on the reservation as I was hoping for. It seems as if Gellar may have been a bit overwhelmed and unable to absorb it all in the few visits she made. Also, there were some situations on the reservation she wisely began to avoid. I did like the fact that she learned to weave, so it was good to see her embrace that part of her heritage.
Trigger warnings for those readers sensitive to drug and alcohol abuse.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for allowing me to read an advance copy and give my honest review.
It's interesting to me, scrolling through the reviews of this book, how many of the 1 and 2-star reviews cite their disappointment that Geller didn't give them more details about her Native American culture/family. This is a failure of marketing and, in my view, an indictment of the publishing industry's insistence on pigeonholing BIPOC authors. Yes, Geller is Native American. Yes, some of this memoir deals with her reconnecting with her family members who live on a reservation. But that's a part of this story, which is about cycles of addiction and poverty, generational trauma and the pull of family. Further, Geller is experimenting with reporting and structure in a way that considers how much we can really know a person, how much our memory/experience meshes with someone right there with us.
This book is a hard read. Geller is unflinching, refusing to soften the edges of her experiences as she tells us she once did, telling her traumas for a laugh. We don't get a happy ending or everything tied up and resolved. You might not like the way Geller handles her family, even at the end. But she's given us a brilliant, honest book, worth your time.
Native American memoir of Navajo girl/woman and her extended family. Wanted to stop about half way through but forced myself to finish. Depressing. Draggy. Repetitive. Don't really understand high ratings. But obviously not my kind of book.
Danielle Geller uses an admirable spareness in tone, coupled with a marked absence of sentimentality, to portray her emergence into adulthood in Dog Flowers. Recounting the events of a childhood marked by constant upheaval as the child of two parents struggling with alcoholism and substance abuse, Geller's language never relies on overt signifiers to telegraph how readers should react; it's a minimalist delivery that underscores the power of simply being able to document her story. Geller also exhibits an admirable resistance against playing to expectations that she perform Tour Guide to "explain" her Native heritage (why is every work by a Native author so often judged "inadequate" when it doesn't function double duty as a Lonely Planet Guide to Being Indigenous?) In addition, Geller steadfastly rejects following the "struggle + redemption/triumph of the human spirit" arc. This memoir is a brave, unflinching excavation of how Danielle Geller, and Danielle Geller alone (as opposed to Danielle Geller the Navajo Nation rep, or Danielle Geller the Survivor), came to write this work.
Despite the many attributes I admired, I also found the book lagging in parts. It's as if Geller's vigilance against following hackneyed, antiquated expectations of what a Native memoir should be, or what the survival story of childhood trauma should resemble, was so at the forefront, she inadvertently shut out vibrant aspects of her voice in the process; after a while, the narrative almost reads like a catalog of one emotional devastation after the next, without much panoramic perspective to frame the events.
The approach of "This book you have in your hands is the proof that I made it out the other side - that this work exists is enough testimony" is inarguably badass. Unfortunately, there were a few technical issues throughout (several times I had to double back because I hadn't realized I was in the middle of a flashback, or that I was already Out of one; there's also no mention of schooling after a certain point, so I wasn't sure when she earned the graduate degree that would mark the beginning of her work as an archivist) - this confusion came to overtake the narrative at times, to the extent that I began to wonder if the lack of an apparent arc was even a conscious authorial choice, or whether it was more of a first-time author's uncertainty letting the story get away from her.
One aspect of Geller's story which initially drew me in was how her training and work as a professional archivist shaped the writing and construction of this memoir. We all, as humans, carry mental baggage as we plow on - our brains mercifully push some of that gnarly stuff back into the cobwebs, so that we might forge on to the next moment... but what if your profession is to fully examine and catalog every item of history you encounter - and then, what if you suddenly become the sole caretaker of all the worldly possessions your estranged mother left behind? The prospect of witnessing Geller's process, the assembling of all the mysterious pieces of her mom's life to decode exactly who Tweety was, all through an archivist's lens, was a truly fascinating premise. Unfortunately, Geller's exploration of these ideas doesn't feature directly in the narrative much, save for a paragraph or two, and mostly drops off by the end. I imagine part of reason is that she simply didn't have enough material left to work with (we are told it's the contents of several suitcases), but I would have appreciated more engagement with the ideas that emerged from what little she uncovered.
And while I genuinely admired the minimalist delivery, by the conclusion, I felt that Geller never quite figured out how to balance the spare tone in a manner that enabled more of her personality to emerge; I suspect she wasn't sure how to mesh the witty voice that peeks out from time to time (see: hot take on the Muppets' creepy faces) with the heavy content of the memoir. Also, as a fellow geek, I wish she had written more about that aspect of her life - not the video games per se, but what she got out of being in those alternate worlds, aside from the obvious (that they are not the usually-harsh one she had to be physically present in).
It's a continual Catch-22 - write about having to overcome near-unfathomable blockades in one's personal life to eventually attain a graduate degree/steady career and form genuine bonds with good people who will stay by your side, but risk writing one more BIPOC Exceptionalism narrative in the process, or alternately, focus solely on the heartbreaking moments, and end up writing another kind of "struggle porn" tale that is also commonly peddled for mass consumption. The triumph of Dog Flowers is that Geller successfully avoids both traps; I only wish this alternate ground had better highlighted more of Danielle Geller, the geeky archivist.
4 stars because what the author set out to do is part of a new direction I really hope we see more and more in BIPOC writing, that of writing one's own story with no bowing whatsoever to clichéd mass expectations. Now that she committed this integral, profoundly dark story to the page, perhaps Danielle Geller will feel freed up enough to tell more tales that feature her impressive powers of observation + skillful use of minimalist tone, but with the distinctly funny, quirky voice we caught fleeting glimpses of in this memoir at the very forefront.
I started reading this book, and then I started Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu. Geller and Owusu both show how fragmented lives can be when one is not rooted in their own history, family, and culture. Geller shows the fragmented life of a girl that's dealing with trauma and abuse. I see why the book feels disjointed. Her writing reflects the pain, disconnectedness, and confusion she's felt throughout her life. I am grateful for this story.
Man...what a heartbreaking read. Talk about the power of resilience. I understood the dedication of Danielle in attempting to "fix" her family but it was so sad to read. I was a disappointed in the way the memoir ended pretty abruptly, maybe I wanted a solution, even though I realize that may be unrealistic. I mostly wanted to sit down with Danielle and tell her how damn proud I am of her. Trigger warnings for any who may have grown up with alcoholic parents.
The author tells the story of her mother who is homeless using her box belongings. The story includes her homeless father and substance abusing center Grief makes this relatable. The Navajo background of her mother is explored. A hard life is eloquently portrayed in these pages.
This is a tough book to read. Extremely. Especially if you have suffered trauma yourself. I thought this was more about the Indian experience when I was approached to read and review this, and I should have done more research before accepting that challenge. That said, I am not sorry that I read this. And here is why; in reading this, I've realized, that for all the the crap that my father did to me [and to our family as a whole and continues to do], he - 1. Never tried to kill my sister or myself. He may have beat me and smacked me around, but he never, ever tried to physically snuff me or my sister [or my mom or step-mom's for that matter] out. 2. He always picked women [and there were LOTS of women] that had jobs, homes of their own, that were nice, that had lives that weren't on the edge of anything crazy. They may have drank a lot, but there were no drugs and we were never ever in danger when we were with them and their friends. 3. He ALWAYS had a job himself [sometimes several] and he always fed and clothed us when we were with him [and made sure we had those things when we were with my Mom] - even as a high-functioning drunk, he knew we needed to eat. 4. He wasn't in and out of jail. The cops weren't always at our house. He never did [that I ever knew of] anything illegal.
And in reading this memoir, I have realized, that for all the crap I suffered at the hands of him as a child, teen and adult, I still have room to be grateful. I know that sounds weird - how does one be grateful when there is known abuse [and I know that not everyone gets this and I both see and acknowledge you. I am so sorry that you have suffered at the hand of a parent and that you have never gotten closure. I cannot imagine how difficult your life must have been and continues to be. My heart breaks for you and I pray that you can find the truth and end that you need to move forward]? Because you read things that remind you that it ALWAYS could have been worse. We were never homeless. We always had a place to live and food on the table. It might have been just mac and cheese, but we ate. And that is something to be grateful for. And even though Danielle isn't able to forgive her father [and there is absolutely NO judgement here], I have found that forgiveness has helped me at certain times. Maybe because I am not a writer, it is how I move forward. I don't know. I DO know that you have to do whatever you need to do to move forward. And I applaud her for that.
There are no other words for how I feel right now about this. I am so glad she came out on the other side of all that she experienced, that she is one of the lucky ones. Even for all that she went through, she is absolutely one of the lucky ones. Not everyone makes it through to the other side and finds even a semblance of happiness.
Thank you to NetGalley, Danielle Geller, and Random House Publishing - Random House/One World for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Too often I'll try to write a review for a book and feel stumped. Especially because I tend to use the same five words to describe each book. "Moving! Deep! Lyrical!" So today I thought I'd do something different. I went and looked up a bunch of reviews for Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller and I thought I'd share the adjectives that people used to describe the book. Is this cheating in the world of book reviews? Probably, but I don't care. • Gripping • Heartbreaking • Heavy • Brave • Sad • Gut wrenching • Dark • No frills • Striking • Integral • Disjointed • Haunting • Minimal • Stark • Quirky • Intriguing • Tough • Unflinching • Honest • Brilliant • Emotional • Impressive I will say that after reading many reviews, I disagree with those who said that the author needed to be more introspective or use these stories from her parents' lives to create more meaning in hers. I think we tend to want memoirs to be this tragedy-porn experience where we can have everything wrapped up neatly and know that the main character got a great ending. I think that's harmful, especially to BIPOC authors. A memoir is an incredibly personal style of writing and I think it needs to be critiqued differently than we would with a traditional character arc.
Unfortunately this one fell flat for me. I felt like it was a lot of narrative with a little substance. While the author's story is tragic and her life has been full of hardship, i didn't feel there was great resolution or anything that wrapped this up into a memoir format. Some parts were so drawn out with loads of detail and prose that I forgot what the original "point" was.
In Dog Flowers, Geller, a Native American, has written about her tough upbringing in an alcoholic household where poverty, neglect, alcohol, homelessness and abuse were all too familiar. Her young life is difficult and she watches as the lives of her father, mother and sister fall into despair.
Geller goes to her mother's bedside as she lay in the hospital dying from alcohol withdrawal. After her passing, she reconnects with her mother and learns more about her life through the few belongings, letters and diaries she left behind. She eventually visits the reservation where her mother grew up and reconnects with extended family.
Written with emotion and honesty, Geller herself appears lost until at the end of her story she meets her husband and moves to Canada to live. Dog Flowers is definitely a story of resilience as Geller was able to move away from the destructiveness that consumed her family and live a different and healthier life.
Thank you to Netgalley, publisher and author for the chance to read and review this book.
A really impressive book. I wish I'd bought the hard copy and not the Kindle version, because there are so many images that seem really critical to the story--which is not just about Geller's family, but also her process of putting their history back together. There are lots of books about dysfunctional alcoholic families (Native and non-Native), but what makes this book stand out is Geller's training as a professional archivist, and the archival vision she turns on these suitcases full of journals, letters and photos from her mother.
The book is loosely divided between recollections of her own childhood and her eventual travel back to the Navajo reservation to meet her family. Along the way, her own story sometimes sat a little uneasily for me--she would insert really intriguing details, like a bipolar diagnosis, and then drop them. Or she would narrate some events really closely in ways that felt kind of elliptical--e.g., a downstairs neighbor cracking open a door as she entered the building--or just not followed through. The book feels a bit like it was written in shorter pieces at varying points in time, which doesn't really bother me; it's just that, even at the level of the sentence, I felt like the book could have benefitted from a little more editing (way too many typos for such a big press).
Several Indigenous books about mental illness have come out in the past year, so if this interests you, I highly recommend Cheryl Savageau's _Out of the Crazywoods_--in many ways a more lyrical and more mature book, but one that is getting only a fraction of the attention, perhaps because it was published by a university press and not a big house. It's good to see the big houses start to embrace more Indigenous authors, but they still have a long way to go.
Danielle Geller shares her efforts to reclaim her mother in a quiet, yet powerful voice that's substantially free of retrospective editorializing. For readers who want to learn a life lesson along with the memoirist, this absence of "and now I know" observations may disappoint. For me, it was refreshing to read a memoir that kept that sort of clutter out of a story. Geller's mother leaves her home on the Navajo reservation at nineteen, marries Geller's father, and has three daughters. Alcohol takes over her life and she's unable to care for her children; Geller grows up with one sister and their paternal grandmother. She has little contact with her mother and none with her mother's family, and when her mother dies, Geller gradually takes steps to understand her mother, her mother's family, and her mother's culture. Her search for a true image of her mother has universal elements beyond the personal details of her story. Adoptees, foster care survivors, and others separated from their mothers as children will recognize the complexities of a child's feelings toward an absent mother, how one carries those feelings into adulthood, the drive to connect with blood relatives, and how family separation creates generational loss. As an adoptee in reunion with my maternal family, Geller's words rang true. As a writer and reader, I was swept up in the story, the structure, the imagery, and the wisdom. Looking forward to Danielle Geller's next book.