I’d like to thank One World/Random House and Netgalley for so generously providing me a copy of Dog Flowers. All opinions are, of course, my own.
Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Length: 272 pages
Publisher: One World
A daughter returns home to the Navajo reservation to confront her family’s troubled history and retrace her mother’s life—using both narrative and archive in this unforgettable and heart-wrenching memoir.
After Danielle Geller’s mother dies of a withdrawal from alcohol during a period of homelessness, she is forced to return to Florida. Using her training as a librarian and archivist, Geller collects her mother’s documents, diaries, and photographs into a single suitcase and begins on a journey of confronting her family’s history and the decisions she’s been forced to make, a journey that will end at her mother’s home: the Navajo reservation.
Geller masterfully intertwines wrenching prose with archival documents to create a deeply moving narrative of loss and inheritance that pays homage to our pasts, traditions, heritage, the family we are given, and the family we choose.
Danielle Geller is a writer of personal essays and memoirs. Her first book, Dog Flowers, was published by One World/Penguin Random House in 2021. She received her MFA in creative writing for nonfiction at the University of Arizona, and a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award in 2016. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Brevity, and Arizona Highways, and has been anthologized in This Is the Place. She lives with her husband and two cats in British Columbia, where she teaches creative writing at the University of Victoria. She is also a faculty mentor for the low-residency MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is a member of the Navajo Nation: born to the Tsi’naajinii, born for the white man.
“Most days, I do not believe I know how to care for my mother’s ghost.”
“I was angry at things outside our control. I was angry at the broken communities we were born into, and the godly men who perpetuated the cycles of abuse. Who told us to seek happiness in ignorance and faith in a God who seemed indifferent to our suffering. Who taught us to forgive too readily, and that forgiveness restored power, when in my experience, forgiveness had only taken my power away.”
“I was not trying to learn how to grieve my mother; I have been grieving her absence my entire life. I was ghost-sick. Possessed.”
“‘He tracks that dirt all over the house,’ Dale said, pointing at the trail of muddy paw prints that led through the back door. ‘Your mom used to call them dog flowers'”
“But if all is forgiven by showing up to church every Sunday and muttering a few prayers, consequences become inconsequential. It didn’t matter that my mother drank. It didn’t matter that she had abandoned her children. She was forgiven; her sins were erased.”
My Thoughts & Takeaways
In Dog Flowers, Danielle Geller rips your heart out. She presents her own life in this heart-wrenching memoir that partly revisits her childhood and young adulthood and partly her mother’s life.
Geller recalls all the moments that shaped her and they’re not necessarily pretty. Everything from abuse, neglect, abandonment, hopelessness, mental illness, and loneliness.
The memoir begins in real-life after her mother’s death and in the book it begins when Danielle receives a phone call that her mother, Lauren “Tweety” Lee is in the hospital, dying. She makes the decision to go despite the hell she went through.
Her mother was never a real presence in her life. Her and her sister, Eileen, were shuffled from their alcoholic and abusive father and their grandmother (father’s mother).
After visiting her mother in the hospital, Danielle returns to Boston with a suitcase full of letters, receipts, diaries, and photos from her mother’s relatively short life.
This memoir is heavy, raw, and doesn’t hold anything back. Not only does it bring to light very important issues that many face whether it be abandonment, abuse, alcoholism, addiction, and more, but it also gives a real snippet into the life of Navajo culture and what it’s like to be born into a life where the cards are stacked against you.
The style of writing was a bit unusual for me, but I soon came to love it. Danielle can abruptly change scenes, but somehow it works.