And Then She Fell by Alicia Elliott
Alice is a member of the Mohawk nation and a new mother living in Toronto with Steve, her loving, white, professor husband. Steve specialises in the study of her tribe and is even learning to speak Mohawk. Alice is unsure if this is to increase his chances of tenure or to impress her. Their child, Dawn, is an extremely difficult baby and Alice is struggling with feeding and bonding. The first half of the book contains a lot of backstory so that the reader has some understanding of how Alice avoided teen pregnancy on ‘the rez’, her very strained relationship with her mother (and her mother’s battle with mental illness), and her closeness with her cousin and best friend, Dana.
Alice is suffering from what seems at first to be postnatal depression, but is possibly a wider mental health breakdown. She believes that if she can write the creation tale of her tribe, the Haudenosaunee Creation Story, she will be able to save her daughter and herself. The second half of this novel chronicles her deterioration and is replete with talking cockroaches, Pocahontas addressing her from the television set, and corrosive paranoia about her probably racist neighbours. This narrative becomes increasingly obscure and hallucinatory. The author acknowledges in her introduction that she had her own fully manic and psychotic episode while researching postnatal psychosis for this novel and it gave her greater understanding and compassion for her mother who had never spoken of her own bipolar disorder.
This novel examines the difficulties of navigating through different worlds, cultures and histories. The author manages this task with admirable dexterity and grace.