cover image Whiskey Tender: A Memoir

Whiskey Tender: A Memoir

Deborah Taffa. Harper, $32 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-328851-5

Taffa, the director of the MFA creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, debuts with a poignant and harrowing account of growing up in the 1980s as a “Native girl in a northwestern New Mexico town where cowboys still hated Indians.” In vivid, nonlinear passages, Taffa describes her childhood, focusing especially on her complex relationships with her parents, who were raised on reservations and had aspirations of assimilation for Taffa and her siblings. Taffa’s father, Edmond Jackson, was often in trouble with the law, most notably after his involvement in a fatal car accident; her mother, Lorraine Lopez Herrera, had such all-consuming depression that Taffa feared being home alone with her. Neither parent explored the history of Native American oppression in-depth with Taffa, who researched that history on her own as an adolescent and began to sour on the American Dream she’d grown up idealizing. Throughout, she’s careful not to depict her circumstances as unique: “My story is as common as dirt,” she writes. “Thousands of Native Americans in California, Arizona, and New Mexico could tell it.” What makes Taffa’s version exceptional is her visceral prose and sharp attunement to the tragedies of assimilation. This is a must-read. Agent: Samantha Shea, Georges Borchardt. (Feb.)