#YourNextRead: Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty

Drawing of Native American woman with long hair that wraps around and forms three stripes, white, yellow, and red, along the bottom of her green skirt.

I once had a non-Indigenous friend ask me, “what is it like on a reservation?” and I could never come up with an adequate answer. There were too many circumstances, too many experiences I couldn’t compress into just a few sentences.

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty (Penobscot Nation) expresses what I could not.

cover image of Night of the Living Rez Stories by Morgan Talty: title in multiple colors, background is a dark starry sky surrounded by silhouettes of pine trees.

Night of the Living Rez is Morgan Talty’s debut collection, which contains 12 connected stories narrated by David (Dee) that deal with substance abuse, death, mental health, boyhood, family ties, complex relationships, and rez life in Panawahpskek Nation in Maine. Panawahpskek, like my own home community, feels like a reservation with a vivid past and a heartbeat full of memories that is home to Native folks, who often have to focus on rising one day at a time when trying to persevere through intergenerational trauma. 

Within these stories of trauma and struggle, there is love too, of course, and it is palpable. Whether it is David’s immediate family, his loyal friends, or his troubled medicine man stepdad Frick, this love is apparent. 

Within these stories of trauma and struggle, there is love too, of course, and it is palpable. Whether it is David’s immediate family, his loyal friends, or his troubled medicine man stepdad Frick, this love is apparent. 

The cyclical toxicity of addiction is portrayed realistically, as we see Dee’s childhood experimentation grow to full blown dependency adulthood. And as the stories unfold, we’re given more insight into why this dependency exists. 

Each story is visceral, honest and haunting. Talty’s writing style drew me in completely, especially when combined with his exceptionally crafted characters, their complex relationships and the phonetic use of Penobscot language. I felt like I was witnessing someone unload heavy memories they’d been carrying for years. I found myself laughing, a few times I was left horrified, and twice I was brought to tears. There were numerous instances where I had no idea what was coming next and as a reader, being brought to the edge of my seat is always an invited experience. 

I hope you come to care for these characters throughout it as much as I did. Though it’s a collection of short stories, for myself it reads like a novel. Night of the Living Rez is an incredible work that I’ll be recommending for years to come and one that is a shining example of the absolutely amazing Indigenous writers our generation has been gifted. 

Night of the Living Rez will be published by Tin House Books on July 5th, 2022. I recently had the chance to ask Morgan Talty some questions about his work, Penobscot language & Indigenous representation: 

One of my favourite aspects of Night of the Living Rez is your character writing. Could you tell us a bit about your creation of Frick? His character is one that really stuck with me after reading

TALTY: It’s interesting, because I never really saw Frick as a “villain,” yet in early drafts, readers of my work were like, “Oh, he’s going to make a great antagonist.” And as I wrote his character, I became much more aware of moments where I could cast him in that light. I think that’s what makes him so memorable–he is, out of all the characters in my opinion–much more of a conflict in the work. 

The Penobscot language within your book feels very intimate and natural, almost like I’d read it or heard it before even though I’m certain I haven’t. How important was including your language in your work? 

TALTY: Very important! And I’m so glad it came across as such. I deliberately chose to use phonetic spelling for readability, but also because when I first started writing years ago, I only knew how to spell the words phonetically. Don’t get me wrong–there’s an immense power to spelling correctly and using the adopted alphabet system, but using what I knew seemed powerful in its own way–a demonstration of what I know. 

After I had finished reading, I couldn’t help but think about what lay ahead for David. What do you think, or hope, David’s future might look like? 

TALTY: I hope it’s one where he finds peace with the tragedy of his life. There are so many good memories I think he has that it would be impossible for him to not find a good and healthy future. 

When I was a young reader, finding an Indigenous authored work set on a reservation would’ve been like finding gold. What does this growth in representation do for Indigenous youth and is it something you think of while writing? 

TALTY: It means SO much. I can’t express how grateful I am that so many new indigenous voices are coming to light. And readers, Native and nonNative alike, are enjoying them. What this does, in my view, is it creates a broader view of Indian Country–by having so many different Native voices, we’re able to create a clearer image of Indian Country to really correct the false ideas about being Native.

Morgan Talty: man with mustache and goatee, slightly smiling and wearing a gray long-sleeve shirt, stands with his arms crossed,  against a background of trees.

Morgan Talty is a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation where he grew up. He received his BA in Native American Studies from Dartmouth College and his MFA in fiction from Stonecoast’s low-residency program. His story collection Night of the Living Rez is forthcoming from Tin House Books (2022), and his work has appeared in Granta, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, Narrative Magazine, LitHub, and elsewhere. A winner of the 2021 Narrative Prize, Talty’s work has been supported by the Elizabeth George Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts (2022). Talty teaches courses in both English and Native American Studies, and he is on the faculty at the Stonecoast MFA in creative writing. Talty is also a Prose Editor at The Massachusetts Review. He lives in Levant, Maine.

More about Night of the Living Rez can be found at Tin House Books. Pre-orders are available now!

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