Synopsis: A hypnotic, brutal, and unstoppable coming-of-age story from within the aftershocks set off by the American Indian boarding schools, fanned by the flames of nearly fifteen years of service in the Armed Forces, exposing a series of inescapable prisons and the invisible scars of attempted erasure.
When he learns his father is dying, David Tromblay ponders what will become of the monster’s legacy and picks up a pen to set the story straight.
In sharp and unflinching prose, he recounts his childhood bouncing between his father, who wrestles with anger, alcoholism, and a traumatic brain injury; his grandmother, who survived Indian boarding schools but mistook the corporal punishment she endured for proper child-rearing; and his mother, a part-time waitress, dancer, and locksmith, who hides from David’s father in church basements and the folded-down back seat of her car until winter forces her to abandon her son on his grandmother’s doorstep.
For twelve years, he is beaten, burned, humiliated, locked in closets, lied to, molested, seen and not heard, until his talent for brutal violence meets and exceeds his father’s, granting him an escape.
Years later, David confronts the compounded traumas of his childhood, searching for the domino that fell and forced his family into the cycle of brutality and denial of their own identity.
Thank you so to Dzanc Books for the ARC of As You Were! I’m so honoured that you trusted me to review this book, and that I got to get a peak of it before it came out.
The first thing that I would like to mention is that I think this book should come with a big content warning in the first few pages, which is also how I’m going to start this review. Please be aware that this book discusses graphically physical and verbal abuse, sexual assault, and violence. I was not as aware of this as I believe that I should have been, and at some points in the book it was difficult to read the author’s experiences. My heart broke for a lot of this book. The intergenerational trauma that Indigenous communities experience because of the residential schools is almost unimaginable, outside of depictions like this. David’s grandmother was a survivor of the schools, but because of them was unable to resort to anything other than violence when disciplining her grandson. His father is facing his own demons, and unfortunately he also relies on violence in his relationship with his son. The brutality of this book was so hard to read, but it’s an unfortunate reality for many people. Just because it is upsetting doesn’t mean that it isn’t going on.
The book itself also featured a lot of interesting questions surrounding what it means to be Indigenous. Being raised off of the reserve meant that David had very few people he could look to for teachings about his Indigenous heritage, and as a result was left with many questions. The final chapter of the book really digs into this, with David being asked questions by a nameless speaker until they finally decide that he must be a bad Indian because he cut his hair, lives off reserve, and joined the military. David thinks about this, and makes the powerful realization that if he looked more Indigenous, he might look more like his father, and would have to look into his eyes every day. David wrestles with his Indigenous identity, and there isn’t really a clear answer at the end of the book. He’s still working through it now, and it wasn’t something that needed to be answered nicely by the end of this book. What I understood from the book is that it’s still a process he’s going through, and I hope that he has the support he needs to look inside himself and decide.
David’s way out of his abusive situation was unfortunately through enlisting in the military. This is a common reason for enlisting, but I can’t help but feel like this is an unfair choice for many people. Escape a current traumatic situation for a potentially even more traumatic one. When David returns from active service, the difficulties accessing care and support are shown in unsettling detail. The support that veterans receive is abominable, and I hope that in the future they are treated with more respect and dignity.
Overall this memoir was difficult to read but carried important messages in it. The intergenerational trauma that Indigenous people have from residential schools, separation from Indigenous identity, and collective trauma throughout ones life can deeply impact a person, and it’s clear in this memoir that David is still working through the traumas that he experienced. But he is working through them, and like I said, I hope that he has the support that he needs to do so.
While people should be aware of the content warnings for this book, I also think that it is a very real view of life.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back soon with another review!
Catch you next time ducks 🙂