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The BookBrowse Review

Published September 20, 2017

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Little Nothing
by Marisa Silver
22 Aug 2017
352 pages
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
ISBN-13: 9780399185809
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A stunning, provocative new novel from New York Times bestselling author Marisa Silver, Little Nothing is the story of a girl, scorned for her physical deformity, whose passion and salvation lie in her otherworldly ability to transform herself and the world around her.

In an unnamed country at the beginning of the last century, a child called Pavla is born to peasant parents. Her arrival, fervently anticipated and conceived in part by gypsy tonics and archaic prescriptions, stuns her parents and brings outrage and scorn from her community. Pavla has been born a dwarf, beautiful in face, but as the years pass, she grows no farther than the edge of her crib. When her parents turn to the treatments of a local charlatan, his terrifying cure opens the floodgates of persecution for Pavla.

Little Nothing unfolds across a lifetime of unimaginable, magical transformation in and out of human form, as an outcast girl becomes a hunted woman whose ultimate survival depends on the most startling transfiguration of them all.  Woven throughout is the journey of Danilo, the young man entranced by Pavla, obsessed only with protecting her. Part allegory about the shifting nature of being, part subversive fairy tale of love in all its uncanny guises, Little Nothing spans the beginning of a new century, the disintegration of ancient superstitions, and the adoption of industry and invention.

With a cast of remarkable characters, a wholly original story, and extraordinary, page-turning prose, Marisa Silver delivers a novel of sheer electricity.

Hardcover & ebook published 2016. Paperback published August 2017.

Some of the recent comments posted about Little Nothing. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Please be aware that this discussion will contain spoilers!

At what point did you realize Markus's true nature? (17 responses)

I realized who Markus really is when Danilo heard the "howling" of the childrens' nightmares. Danilo's attraction to the boy and the amazing hearing and hunting skills Markus exhibited on their journey confirmed that suspicion - bill and jackie

Danilo asks Pavla what she'd like people to say to her. How would you respond to that question? Is there something you'd like people to ask you or say to you? (6 responses)

I don't particularly have anything that I'd like for people to ask me or say to me but I do like it when people tell me that they learned something new from me. It makes me feel as if the time spent together wasn't a waste or boring because something new was learned - PiperUp

Do you agree with Pavla that "love is filled with lies"? (8 responses)

I agree with a lot of the previous posts. To say love is a lie doesn't make as much sense as to say our expectations of love are often unrealistic, sometimes making love seem like a lie - pennyp

Do you recall any unusual home remedies from your childhood? Did any of them work? (21 responses)

Baking soda, Epsom salts, vinegar, lemon juice and honey, salt water, Vicks are a few I can think of. I'd say most worked to some degree. I don't think they would have made me any taller? - pennyp

Do you recall the first time you left your childhood home, and how you felt about the experience? (20 responses)

I left at 17 to get married. I was very happy to get out of my house at that time but remained very close to my mother. I thought at that time, I was very prepared to be on my own. Little did I know how much I had to learn - pennyp

Do you think that the perception of Pavla changes during her childhood, and if so, why? Do you think the shift is realistic? (8 responses)

Yes, the perceptions of those who came to know her as a person changed, starting with her parents, then classmates and townspeople. At the same time, in her world (and in ours, still) her "otherness" was still something that set her apart from most people's definition of normalcy. Her ... - JLPen77

Do you think the fortune-teller's prophecy for Pavla and Danilo comes true? Why or why not? (9 responses)

Yes, Pavla remained brave and Danilo continued to be unsure ,indecisive and cowardly. Maybe not a prophecy because that is how they were in the beginning - pennyp

How do you think Little Nothing plays with the storytelling traditions of fairy tales and folklore? (17 responses)

I think she became human again as she sheltered them, grieved over their bodies. She wasn't the killer, but being the only person found with them, she got arrested for it.

The transformations here are always symbolic: she turns into a wolf the more she is treated as less than human, and sees herself...

- JLPen77

How do you think the surrogate families the characters create compare to those they've been born into? (8 responses)

Pavla, Markus and Danilo were all rejected by their natural families. The were each able to find acceptance in new surrogate families. Pavla the wolves and Markus and Danilo each other - pennyp

Love, loyalty, transformation, parenthood. Which of these do you feel Little Nothing is most about? (12 responses)

I agree with most of the others. The primary focus of the story was about transformation. Transformation of Paula and others, also transformation of ideas and beliefs. Secondarily, it was about love and connection, and lastly a bit about parenthood - pennyp

What did people actually think of the book? (17 responses)

I did not like this book at all and couldn't even finish it. I usually don't quit reading in the middle of the book, but I just did not find it interesting at all. Very disappointing - Rosieglitter

What do you make of Pavla's disappearance? What do you imagine is next for her, or do you think her story has come to an end? (16 responses)

I think she may change into something else. I wonder if there might be a sequel - pennyp

What do you think Pavla means when she says "I'm not here?" (16 responses)

I think it was too painful for Paula to be present in the moment so she removed herself from the situation - pennyp

What do you think the novel says about the nature of love? (10 responses)

I think it says there are many kinds of love, all of which are complex and endurin - pennyp

Why do you think Agata and Vaclav try to change Pavla in spite of the cost and pain incurred? (19 responses)

Agata and Vaclav were bullied and questioned by town residents for not having children (which unfortunately stills happens). When Pavla was born with dwarfism they are embarrassed and ashamed for not producing a so-called normal child. As Pavla grew into a functioning, bright young girl they began ... - janicea

Why do you think the author Silver withholds the name of the country, or the year. Do you have a guess about the time and place? (23 responses)

The country itself and date are basically irrelevant for the fable/fairy tale genre. Also, the setting and time are actually described well through Silver's descriptions of places and the activities of the characters - bill and jackie

A Huffington Post Book Club Suggestion
An O: The Oprah Magazine Fall Pick
A LitHub Book You Should Read This September
One of The Millions' "Most Anticipated" for 2016

"Marisa Silver's beguiling new novel Little Nothing is a powerful exploration of the relationship between our changeable bodies and our just as malleable identities…Silver's storytelling skills are finely matched to her themes…meditative passages bloom with life." - Matt Bell, The New York Times Book Review

"Marisa Silver's fantastically inventive new novel counters expectations at every turn….The novel's open ending lingers unsettlingly in the mind….Silver manages to transform the fairy tale without losing its power." - Fran Bigman, The Washington Post

"A dark fairy tale that pulses with life and anger, Little Nothing is a remarkable piece of fiction- fantastically written and beautifully crafted." - The Bookbag (UK)

"A parable and a full-fledged, richly told story, with clearly drawn characters who beckon us to come along with them on their journeys….Silver shows us her capacity for fleet-footed writing. Little Nothing is a quick, pleasurable read, but one that's full of mysteries to stop and unpack." - Maddie Crum, The Huffington Post

"In Little Nothing, Marisa Silver doesn't waver….she delivers a tale as mysterious as anything the Grimm Brothers might have collected….Little Nothing celebrates not only the unruly and lost parts of all our lives but also the possibility of their reordering and comprehension." - Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times

"A beautifully told, heart-rending, can't-put-it-down read….Silver masterfully balances a riveting plot with deep meaning- exploring love and its inadequacies, the persistent and unequal power of sexuality, the cost of being an outcast in a fearfully conforming society. And her language is simply stunning." - Connie Nelson, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Star-crossed lovers…Pavla serves to remind readers of the moral of the story, that a good soul can find transcendence in the face of unbearable odds. And in Danilo readers will recognize their own longing for transcendence and meaning as he transforms himself through pain and sorrow to a man of courage and ingenuity." - Publishers Weekly

"Silver spins a fable-like tale of two star-crossed lovers in Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century….Pavla and Danilo circle each other but never quite come together until another startling transformation rips them apart, sending Danilo on a quest to find his lost love. Silver has created a gorgeously rendered, imaginative, magical yarn." - Kristine Huntley, Booklist

"Little Nothing is a magnificent something, an inventive, unexpected story that seamlessly blends fable and folklore into the lives of characters who remain heart-wrenchingly real. That Silver wrestles with nearly unanswerable questions- What does it mean to occupy a body? What does it mean to be human? How transformative is love?- and still produces an exhilarating page-turner is a testament to her biting, beautiful prose. In addition to being a joy to read, this book challenged and changed me, and I can't imagine what else anyone would want from a work of art." - Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest
"Little Nothing is the key to its own box, which opens and opens, transcending the limits of the very tale one thought one was reading. There is no limit. There is only the vaporous wonder of transformation, and the kernel of a spirit of a thing that can go on, and does. This book is a beautifully realized riddle." - Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers
"By turns haunting, fanciful, and poignant, Little Nothing is the latest example of why Marisa Silver is one of our finest, most protean storytellers." - Boris Fishman, author of A Replacement Life
"Part allegory, part fable, part love story, Little Nothing is unflinching, brutal, and yet exquisitely beautiful. This haunting and original novel- about the lengths people will go to escape persecution, the transformative power of compassion, and how one can find moments of grace and connection in a world filled with heartache- is unlike anything I've ever read before." - Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train

"In Little Nothing, the wizardly Marisa Silver conjures a pitch-dark tale with empathy and humor. An emotionally suspenseful allegory, the novel reveals how the world's expectations can torque a woman's identity and leave a ferocious ache behind. The novel twisted me up inside. I loved it." - Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies, a National Book Award finalist
"With Little Nothing, the peerless Marisa Silver is at the height of her powers. Following one woman's transformation, Little Nothing reimagines the boundaries between mother and child, human and non-human, possible and impossible. Lyrical, raw, and urgent, this exquisite novel will take you to the outermost edges of heart and mind." - Amity Gaige, author of Shroder

"Little Nothing is a wild, witty, and mesmerizing tale that plays with the dissidence of bodies and the transcendence of longing. Marisa Silver writes beautiful, seductive prose that always manages to be both wise and fleet; her inventive, romantic novel is compassionate and moving in wonderfully surprising ways." - Dana Spiotta, National Book Award finalist and author of Innocents and Others and Eat the Document

Write your own review

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Sandi W.
Really hard for me to review this book. It was good - for me - because this is the type book-break I needed. However, at a different time and place I might not have liked this book as much as I did.

A fable, folklore, mystical - all apply, but really don't describe this book. It tells the story of a deformed girl, Pavla, who was scorned, even originally by her Mother, who ended up in a traveling circus side show. She meets Danilo - who is part of her act. He falls in love with her. Over time she morphs into a wolf and runs away. Danilo searches for her, finds her more than once, and saves her. By stories end, she has morphed back into a human - one imprisoned. Danilo finds her again. However Pavla is not done "becoming". The end of the book has another twist.

Left to determine your own story conclusion, I felt that I was left wanting. It would be nice to have a follow up story about Pavla, however I do not feel that is in the future. The writing was good, the story palatable, once you understand it's premise, and as I stated earlier, the book that I needed to interrupt my past reading collection.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Gloria
Mixed feelings
If I were rating Marisa Silver's "Little Nothing" on her beautiful writing, her expansive imagination and her compelling characterizations, I would rate this novel Four Stars.
But although I found the writing compelling, when I finished the last page, I just felt muddled. What was she trying to tell me? Pavla is born a dwarf, then becomes a wolf-girl, then a wolf, then a woman. She is loved by Danilo, in all her manifestations. But is he mad?
Is this a fairy tale or a nightmare?
Maybe this novel requires another reading or two.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Susan
Fantasy and a Nightmare Fairy Tale
This is a book of transformation as we meet a baby with dwarfism born to a peasant couple. Her life is difficult in this small village where those who are different are viewed with suspicion and superstition. Nonetheless, her character and intelligence eventually win over the people in the village and ease her parents' conflicted feelings about their daughter. Some of the transformations this young woman goes through are fantastical indeed! I won't spoil the story by recounting all of them but the reader must suspend reason and logic while reading the story and focus instead on love and transformation as these two themes unfold for the key characters in this fable. Read it and enjoy!

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Linda Z.
Dark and Twisted Tale
Marisa Silver has written a number of genres in her book"Little Nothing".  This novel seems to have symbolic meanings for things on a deeper level. Perhaps it is the difference between good and evil. Perhaps it is dealing with the old and the new, or superstitions, magic, and even the timing at the turn of the century were there is a difference between ancient and modern. The genres for this book could be Fiction, "Subversive Fairy Tale", Thriller, and Folktale. Be warned  this is a very dark, at times frightening, disgusting, horrific story. I certainly had trouble falling asleep after reading it. I found it to be disturbing, and I have to ask myself why I didn't stop reading. The easiest explanation is that the author has a way of telling a story, and I really wanted a happy ending.

The author describes her characters as complicated and complex. I find some of the characters despicable. I find some of the parts of this story despicable. Some of this story is very dark and twisted. Pavla is probably one of the innocent characters both to two elder people who had tried for years to have a baby.  Desperate the mother turns to a witch or gypsy for strange tonics and strange prescriptions.  Pavla is born with a physical deformity and it really takes a long time for her parents to accept her. Or do they? They turn to a charlatan claiming to be a doctor, and will do anything to fix this situation. Can Pavla be fixed? Do you want to know what happens?

It seems that only one person really cares for Pavla, and that person is an outcast as well.

There is  some dark magic and superstitious beliefs that seem to surround the story.

I found some parts of the story unexplainable, or confusing. The timeline and plot seemed to jump around. For those people that like a dark and twisted tale I recommend this for you. If you like to look for symbolism and deeper meanings, this would be for you as well. I received a copy of this book for my honest review? Was there a happily ever after? You'll have to read this book to find out!

Marisa Silver made her fiction debut in The New Yorker when she was featured in that magazine's first Debut Fiction issue. Her collection of short stories, Babe in Paradise was published by W.W. Norton in 2001. It was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year.

In 2005, W.W. Norton published her novel, No Direction Home. Her novel, The God of War, was published in 2008 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction. Her second collection of stories, Alone With You, was published in April, 2010. Winner of the O. Henry Prize, her fiction has been included in The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, as well as other anthologies. Her novel Mary Coin (2013) is also a New York Times Bestseller.

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