Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.
Occasionally I will come across a book that I’m not sure I can do justice to, that I’m not sure I have the right words for.
Such is the case with Alicia Elliott’s blistering essay collection, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. But I’m going to try because I think this is an incredibly important work.
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground touches on an astonishing number of issues: mental illness, residential schools, racism in Canadian literature, Reconciliation, abuse, sexual abuse, poverty, parenthood and love. I was immediately struck by how much rage there is in her work. In every essay, sometimes simmering just below the surface, other times taking center stage, Elliott’s anger is a force to be reckoned with. And why wouldn’t she be angry? An Indigenous woman in a country that turns a blind eye to her missing and murdered sisters, that refuses to take accountability for the damage done by residential schools, that likes the sound of Reconciliation but won’t take any actual steps to make it happen.
Instead of actually dealing with the consequences of historical genocidal policies – policies that are still in place – they can pretend that assimilation settled over our people like a gentle fog. It was entirely natural; no one is to blame. Certainly not them. They like Indians. They named a few sports teams after them, after all. They also read The Orenda and it, like, changed their lives. But these same settlers will not listen to the voices of real-life Indigenous people and, further, seem unable to realize that by expecting us to be their Ideal Indian Caricatures, they’re adding another layer of colonial trauma to our already overburdened peoples.
I didn’t realize it until about half way through the collection, but I’d been aware of Alicia Elliott on Twitter for a while. Hers was a voice that was popping up on my timeline in the aftermath of the Coulten Boushie verdict. In fact, if there’s only one essay that you get to read out of this collection, it sound be Dark Matters, an examination of the trauma inflicted on people by justice systems set up to benefit the people who have historically abused her people. It is hard to read but Elliott isn’t here to make me feel comfortable.
Reading about Elliott’s mother and their relationship in Crude Collages of My Mother almost broke me. It is filled with such longing and love and hurt. Each essay slides another piece in the foundation that holds up the punishing conclusion that requires some soul searching.
What I’m trying to say, not at all well, is that you should read this essay collection. It is beautiful, important, uncomfortable and profound. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Alicia Elliott becomes a celebrated Canadian voice. I’m excited to see what she does with that platform.