Although each of the 12 linked tales in Morgan Talty’s debut collection captures a particular moment, relationship or experience, together they give Night of the Living Rez the heft, movement and complexity of a novel.
All of the stories are narrated in the first person by David, a Penobscot man living on a reservation in Maine. About half the stories occur during David’s childhood and adolescence; in the other half, he’s a young man in his 20s, passing the time drinking and smoking with his friend Fellis, struggling with the effects of opioid addiction and longing for a place to belong in a confusing world.
There is so much beauty in these stories, but also heaviness, including sexual assault, inherited trauma and violence toward Indigenous people. Talty writes truthfully and openly about the challenges faced by David and his family but never reduces any of them to their pain. David and the people around him—his mother, his stepdad, his sister and Fellis—are real and flawed. They try their best and make mistakes; they get in fights and let one another down. They also look out for one another, express their affection through food and laughter, tell stories and share ceremonies. Funny and direct, David is a brilliant observer of these ordinary yet specific lives. He’s the perfect guide to the constellation of relationships, history and culture that defines the reservation he calls home.
What’s most remarkable about the collection is the way Talty carefully guides readers to the book’s climax. Each story reveals something new about David; small details from one story become life-changing events in another. In this way, the stories in Night of the Living Rez build on themselves the way a life builds: messily, unpredictably, with love and heartache and never quite in the way you expect.