Alone With you, Marisa Silver's new collection of short stories is a jewel. Actually a cache of many gems, each one complete and powerful in both the feelings that they evoke and the eloquent way in which they unfold.
A good short story must pack a wallop in order to leave us with an emotional response that lingers in our thoughts after we've finished it. It needs to have characters we care about, not necessarily like, but have a vested interest in. Often times, this is achieved by placing unconventional protagonists in situations that are so extreme, so above and beyond what most of us deal with in our day-to-day lives, that while we marvel at their foibles, their shortcomings or their eccentricities, we sit safely in a position of removed voyeur.
Marisa Silver's stories do not allow us such luxury. For this collection of tales is about ordinary, down to earth people, trying to make sense out of life's messiness. We easily identify with them and see ourselves, our own lives played out in the defining moments of their journeys. We ache for them and with them, for their dilemmas, their hardships and their sorrows. Yet even as they falter and stumble, they determinedly move forward with quiet strength and grace, not a whiner in the lot.
As in real life, crystal clarity often comes when and where we least expect to find it. Sometimes we grasp it immediately, but other times we are oblivious to what stands starkly before us and so it passes by, the revelation stored up for some future moment when aided with the benefit of distance, and/or crisis, we are able to see what was always there. This plays out time and time again throughout Alone With You.
While all eight stories in this book stand by themselves, unique in their settings, characters and dilemmas, they share another commonality, an ever-present thread that connects them together. It is the belief that we are ultimately unto ourselves as we try to put the puzzle pieces of our lives together. Whether standing amongst others, family, friends or strangers, we remain alone within our thoughts. And, sometimes in the end, there is no more lonely a place to be than in the company of others.
The Pond forces a father to confront his inner most feelings when his child, born "less perfect," is almost lost. Night Train to Frankfurt allows a daughter, accompanying her mother to a cancer treatment center of last resort, to contemplate their relationship, as they sit in a lone train compartment. In the New World finds a father who, bewildered by his son's actions, is overwhelmed with emotions that range from deep primal love to heated rage. It is a story of old versus new, of guarded heartbreak misread as callousness.
Alone With You tackles the haunting concept of aloneness with prose woven together so powerfully that at different points one stops for a moment to reread sentences and mull them over. Commonplace occurrence suddenly takes on extraordinary trajectory.
"On the way home, the girls rode in back of the old Volvo pressed low in their seat by the weight of their parents' silence. Their mother's head fell back against the headrest, her mascara pooling at the corners of her eyes. Their father strained forward to see past the windshield, as if he were looking for ghosts."- The Three Girls
"Sheila had been a springboard diver in high school, and occasionally she dreamed of diving, not of meeting the water, but of the seconds before, when she was suspended and gloriously weightless, when the possibility of disaster was unimaginable."- Leap
There are no quick fix resolutions to be found in these stories, no neat and tidy endings. We are dropped into each character's life for a short time to observe, and then we quietly leave. Yet each story proves immensely satisfying because none of these characters are static or frozen but rather all moving forward. They may be battle weary; they may be damaged and terribly frail. They may make choices that are different than what we might choose, but they have not given up and that, in the end, is what proves so inspiring about each and every one of these tales.
Marisa Silver's Alone With You is a welcome addition to the stack of must read books that sit by all our beds.
Read a complete short story
As you likely know, BookBrowse provides an excerpt of every book we recommend, so you can decide if the book is right for you. In this case, you can enjoy "Temporary", one of the short stories from the collection, in its entirety.
This review was originally published in June 2010, and has been updated for the April 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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