Book Review

Night Of The Living Rez

Night of the Living Rez

  • Author: Morgan Talty
  • Genre: General Fiction/Literary Fiction
  • Publication Date: July 5, 2022
  • Publisher: Recorded Books

Thank you to libro.fm for providing me with an ALC of this audiobook. I am voluntarily providing my honest opinion.

CONTENT WARNING: violence, addiction, alcoholism, grief, Alzheimer’s Disease, mention of sexual assault, murder, death of a child, trauma, racism

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

How do the living come back to life? 

Set in a Native community in Maine, ‘Night of the Living Rez’ is a riveting debut collection about what it means to be Penobscot in the twenty-first century and what it means to live, to survive, and to persevere after tragedy.

In twelve striking, luminescent stories, author Morgan Talty—with searing humor, abiding compassion, and deep insight—breathes life into tales of family and community bonds as they struggle with a painful past and an uncertain future. A boy unearths a jar that holds an old curse, which sets into motion his family’s unraveling; a man, while trying to swindle some pot from a dealer, discovers a friend passed out in the woods, his hair frozen into the snow; a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s projects the past onto her grandson, and thinks he is her dead brother come back to life; and two friends, inspired by Antiques Roadshow, attempt to rob the tribal museum for valuable root clubs. 

In a collection that examines the consequences and merits of inheritance, ‘Night of the Living Rez’ is an unforgettable portrayal of a Native community and marks the arrival of a standout talent in contemporary fiction.

This book came up on my radar as part of the libro.fm influencer program, and at first I thought it was going to be horror, because of the title. However, I’m so glad that I took the time to read the summary, because if I had skipped it simply due to the title, I would have missed out on such an incredible experience.

This book explores the experience of growing up Native American on a Penobscot reservation in Maine, through the eyes of one young man, David, in a collection of short stories over the course of his life. These interconnected chapters span various episodes of his life, mainly taking place between his childhood through his early thirties, with some being told through the lens of his later years looking back. 

The characters are easy to identify with and like, for the most part, simply because they’re so realistic. David, the main character and POV narrator, is especially likable, He’s a relatively good kid, and has such a good heart, even though he doesn’t always do the right thing. However, he does have his own moral compass, despite a less than stellar choice of friends, who are still relatively easy to empathize with, and I found it incredibly easy to understand his family and feel for them.

There is so much that happens in this story, and check out the content warnings before reading, since there’s a lot of sensitive topics discussed. The characters are funny, but they’re very much a product of their environment. They’re up against hundreds of years of generational trauma, as well as dealing with poverty, racism (both personal and institutionalized), abuse, addiction, and mental health issues. 

“Any sense that parts of us were worth so much and at the same time we were worth so little.”

Initially, I was caught off-guard by the fact that each of the short stories was about the same main character, and that they were presented in a non-sequential fashion, but once I realized, I was able to sit back and absorb the story as came. Some of the stories involved humor, although many involved pain, but all of them allowed me to gain more insight into the characters and how they all connected to create a cohesive picture of the characters and who they were, as well as how it all shaped into their overall story. I couldn’t stop listening, until the last story’s shattering end. 

I often listen to audiobooks while driving, and for the first time, I noticed that when certain events in the story were occurring, I found myself driving especially slowly (don’t worry, I was on back roads that didn’t have a lot of cars on them), and had to actually focus to drive at a normal speed. That’s how sucked into the character’s lives I was, and I actually felt as if I was experiencing the events of the stories along with the characters, which is a first for me. This is more than just an audiobook, it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed, and Morgan Talty is an incredible new voice in fiction, offering a new insight into the Penobscot experience that you have to read to fully understand.

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