The 12 stories that make up Maine writer Morgan Talty’s debut novel, “Night of the Living Rez,” were written over nearly five years and changed shape, tone, and perspective several times before merge into its intimate, atmospheric, decade-spanning narrative set to be released on July 5.
Talty, a member of the Penobscot Nation who spent the majority of her youth on Indian Island, offers a window into the world of an Indigenous family living on the reservation, experiencing joy and struggling with dysfunction in equal measure.
Much of it is inspired by his own experience growing up, but some of it comes from his pure love of storytelling, true or not.
“I have memories of being young and the teacher told my parents that I would tell these elaborate stories that I would say were real but not entirely real,” said Talty, 31, who now lives in the Levant with his wife. , Jordan. “I think I’ve always been a storyteller, even though I didn’t really start writing until I was 18.”
After graduating from Dartmouth College in 2016, Talty published his first short story in 2017 while completing the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine. It has since been published in multiple outlets and racked up accolades including nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Maine Literary Awards and was named a 2022 Creative Writing Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Although there is no specific main character in the book, “Night of the Living Rez” often takes the perspective of a young man named Dee and his extended family and friends on the reservation and beyond. It’s a world that will be recognizable to anyone who lives in the Bangor area, Penobscot or not, though the lived experience of the natives is front and center and rendered in beautiful, often biting and amusing detail.
Talty said when he was writing he wasn’t thinking about speaking for his people — he was just trying to tell the story.
“I’m just chasing what these characters want. When I start revising what I’ve written, then I start realizing, OK, these are Penobscot people, and this is our identity that’s going to come out into the world,” Talty said. “I get a little nervous when people classify it as a Penobscot experience because it really is a one family experience.”
At its core, “Night of the Living Rez” is about families grappling with trauma and finding the strength to love and grow in the midst of it, as well as the unbreakable bonds within Indigenous communities – in this case , the Penobscot Nation.
It’s also a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a sensitivity and empathy that belies Talty’s youth. Between harrowing depictions of addiction and family trauma, like in “Safe Harbor,” in which Dee’s mother has a meltdown while in a mental health facility, there’s deadpan humor. . In the opening story “Burn,” for example, the character Fellis gets his hair frozen in ice and snow, and another character comes to his rescue.
There are countless other stories that can be told about the Aboriginal experience. Talty’s voice, as a general writer and storyteller in the Penobscot Nation, is fast becoming a vital voice in the conversation.
Morgan Talty, in conversation with Penobscot author Donna Loring, will give a reading and signing of “Night of the Living Rez” on Thursday, July 7 at the Bangor Public Library.