cover image Living on the Borderlines

Living on the Borderlines

Melissa Michal. Feminist Press, $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-936932-46-7

The stories in Michal’s mixed debut feature the people of the indigenous American community: those who live on and off the reservation, those who are deeply concerned with preserving a collective memory, and those who have lost touch with their cultural origins. In “The Long Goodbye,” there’s Nala, whose elderly grandmother’s deteriorating mental state is likely a direct manifestation of an adolescence spent in an assimilation school. In “A Song Returning,” when Mia discovers a cache of her recently deceased mother’s letters to Gabriella, the daughter she had to give up for adoption, she becomes determined to find her youngest sister. Mia then makes a reappearance in “Nothing but Gray,” in which Gabriella goes to visit her birth family and both parties discover neither is who they hoped the other would be. The author can be a bit heavy-handed with her intentions, and so her best and most effective stories are the ones where she is able to explore the effects of intergenerational trauma in more subtle ways, such as “The Crack in the Bridge,” in which a woman can’t stop seeing muskrats everywhere she goes, and “Phillip,” in which the town outcast takes in a young Native girl. Though uneven, Michal’s debut is thoughtful and generous, capturing the fraught experience of being Native American in the modern U.S. (Feb.)