Event Review - Morningstar
Reviewed by: Jay Ruzesky
Morningstar Mercredi clearly states in her introduction to Morningstar that understanding is what her memoir is about:
Let us...step out of ignorance and denial to a place where we, as a human race, can understand each other's pain. Let us respect the sound of the truth reverberating in the universe and hear those cries once silenced.
In such a book, understanding is significant. Morningstar chronicles her life from her itinerant childhood, through her parents' failed marriage and the subsequent neglect of all seven daughters (there was also a brother, a stillborn first child).
At 8, Mercredi was sexually abused for the first time by her mother's boyfriend and the abuse continued for years. At 12, she became infatuated with a 19-year-old boy who first befriended her and then got her drunk on lemon gin and raped her. She ran away to Vancouver with two friends who planned to make a life for themselves on the Downtown East Side. She went to the police as a runaway and was sent home on the train, but her trouble continued. Released from fear by her adventure, she became tough and wild. She was 14 but looked older and lived in a world of sex, drugs, alcohol and parties until she got pregnant. There had been two men who offered a roof, drugs and alcohol while taking sexual turns with her. The night she told them she was pregnant, they kicked her out and she blacked out at a party where she was gang raped. She attempted suicide and she suffered through a brutal abortion carried out by a punitive doctor who told her he was removing a cyst.
Finding the right tone for this book might have been a challenge, but Mercredi succeeded. At times, she provides details without ornament in order to lay bare the events, and at other she uses poetic reverie to emphasize her ideas. There are italicized passages which seem to come from a state in which the storyteller has left her body so she might observe with distance, such as when she describes the gang rape:
I open my legs as they enter, closing my eyes as moans subside in love-smitten climaxes with any man who needs to feel like one. Just hold me, and like a dove, by morning I'll fly to another and shape-shift into their desire.
These italicized passages point to moments of intense spiritual reckoning.
The book would not have been written if there were not triumphs as well. Mercredi became sober and found a good relationship, despite lying about her young age to make it work. At 17, she became pregnant again, but this time she had the baby and married the father. These changes brought consequences:
I had to experience my feelings. I felt everything, and all that I had run from in my childhood came back, haunting me as I tried to conceal my secrets, secrets that made me feel like a lost child.
She had to come to terms with many aspects of her life: her role as a parent, her own character, and her relationship with her mother.
While working for a university researcher whose study involved northern residential schools, she realizes:
I became aware of the links between parent and child that were almost severed, and of the tragedies of family and community genocide. I finally saw myself as part of the big picture. An eagle soaring high, I caught a glimpse beyond the clouds and grey skies, far beyond the silver lining, to an elusive place of clarity and silence...I found peace. I found forgiveness.
It is her mother she manages to forgive, but the residential school system she tries to understand. In this way, Mercredi's book becomes more than one person's story; it illustrates some of the results of the governmental policies on generations of Aboriginal children. Morningstar takes aim directly at the root cause of the abuse handed down in First Nations communities and reinforces the idea that we all still have a long way to go to heal the wounds opened by colonialism.
With memoir, what matters most is the relationship readers have to the storyteller. With Mercredi, I came to feel compassion for her suffering and much more. She presents herself with such honesty it is clear she does not wish to free herself from responsibility; rather, she allows readers to learn about her and witness larger issues.