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Living on the Borderlines: Stories, by Melissa Michal

October 24, 2018

Living on the BorderlinesLiving on the Borderlines: Stories, by Melissa Michal. Feminist Press.

Forthcoming February 12, 2019.

3 stars

A collection of short stories about Indigenous individuals living at the edges of their own culture..

Melissa Michal is a Seneca woman who teaches creative writing and composition at Arizona State University where she recently earned her Ph.D. in Literature.  She is particularly interested in the representation of Indigenous people in literature and history.  Her writing has appeared in literature reviews.  She has finished a novel, written non-fictional essays and  engaged in photography.

 The short stories in Michal’s debut collection deal with what it means to be Native, today facing a wide range of challenges to traditional culture.  Many, but not all, of her stories center on Seneca people living in upstate New York along the Canadian border. Her characters often deal with non-Native characters, but some of her most moving narratives involve inter-family challenges.  Individuals grapple with questions of how they can, or if they can, pass on their skills and traditions to the next generation.  The stories tend to be sad, elegiac, with a hint of hope in their conclusions.

Michal explains her goals in her writing.  She explains her “loyalty to her characters, the closeness to their voices, and the orality of bringing realties to these stories.”  In doing so she intentionally breaks the rules of Western languages.  I honor her intention but sadly I found her language to be awkward. I am not sure why, or even if the problem is hers or mine.  I am saddened not to be able to catch her cadence and rhythm.  I would like to believe that as writers and readers we can, temporarily at least, visit each others’ spaces.

This is a well intentioned book.  I hope it resonates with others more than it did with me.

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