Night of the Living Rez

The dozen stories of Morgan Talty's Night of the Living Rez make for a vivid debut collection. Talty sets his fiction in the "rez," the Penobscot Indian Nation community of which he, too, is a citizen; here, it's called the "Panawahpskek Nation," whose spelling difference (and more) is elucidated in a note at the end of the book.

Talty writes each story in first-person, jumping back and forth between David the boy and David the man. His second story, "In a Jar," introduces young David and his mother, who have "left our life down south with my father and sister" and moved into a Panawahpskek home. He finds "a glass jar filled with hair and corn and teeth," a discovery that invites the medicine man Frick, who deems the jar "bad medicine," seemingly setting in motion a future cursed with suffering and disappointment. As an adult, David battles drug addiction, unemployment, malaise, spending most of this directionless time with Fellis, a fellow addict who admits to "bumming from [his] mom for thirty-one years."

Through David's maturing eyes, Talty illuminates his narratives with empathy, vulnerability and, occasionally, unexpected humor. He writes with assuredness, with an eyes-wide-open frankness that make his characters feel immediately, if not familiar, then certainly knowable. Joining the ranks of Tommy Orange, Brandon Hobson and Terese Marie Mailhot, Talty's strikingly successful debut is poised to expand the growing circle of lauded Indigenous writers. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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