Reading guide for Alone With You by Marisa Silver

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Alone With You


by Marisa Silver

Alone With You
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2010, 164 pages
    Apr 2011, 176 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
BJ Nathan Hegedus

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About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Marisa Silver returns with an indelible collection of eight stories that mine the complexities of familial relationships and the surprising ways love manifests itself in our lives. In Alone With You, her brilliantly etched characters struggle to deal with life’s abrupt and painful changes. Silver has the signature talent of rendering her fictional inhabitants instantly relatable, in all their imperfections. Through them she powerfully underscores our own unquenchable need for connection.

Discussion Questions

  1. In “Temporary,” Vivian seems content and almost revels in mediocrity. She remembers being labeled by an advisor as a “below-the-radar kind of girl” (p. 4), yet this does not seem to bother her. Why does she continually seek transience and lack motivation?

  2. Talk about the temporary things in Vivian’s life – her living situation, her job, her friends. How do they shape her? What kind of person is she?

  3. Why does Candy take a special, almost mothering, interest in El Lobo in “The Visitor”? Does she react to him because he refuses to interact with her, simply wanting what she can’t have, or is it more than that?

  4. Is her detachment and practicality an asset for Candy as a nurse? What are the advantages and disadvantages of her attitude towards gruesome wounds and her patients in general?

  5. Talk about the different relationships Julia and Burton have with their daughter Martha in “Pond.” Why does Julia insist upon giving Martha as much autonomy as possible? Why does Burton have such trouble reconciling his love for his daughter with his love for his grandson?

  6. How does reading parts of the story through the perspective of Julia, Martha, and Burton impact your reading of this story? Why do you think this story is titled “Pond”?

  7. Reread and discuss the passage from “In the New World” on page 81. Tomasz muses, “His father had lost three children. But in the end, the man was not scared by death. It was the fact that Tomasz had healed that terrified him, that made him mute and unknowable to his youngest son. Each day Tomasz lived was another day he could die. It had never occurred to Tomasz that he could have hurt his father simply by being alive” (p. 81). How do you interpret this passage? How does it apply to Tomasz’s relationship with his own son, Teo? Do you see Tomasz’s adding support to a crumbling house as a metaphor?

  8. In “Leap,” why does Patsy jump? How is this symbolic? Why do Sheila and Colin remain married? Do you think their relationship has become a charade, or that it will ever work again?

  9. Why do you think Dorothy only tries unconventional means of treatment in “Night Train to Frankfort”? What makes Helen realize at the end of the story that her mother really does want to live?

  10. How does Connie’s family contrast with the family with car trouble in “Three Girls”? Discuss the differences between the families and their “three girls.” Which family does the title of the story refer to?

  11. In each story, discuss the character’s detachment from each other, and from themselves. Is this a defense mechanism, or a character trait? Which protagonist has the greatest sense of self, and why?

  12. In the title story, “Alone With You,” Marie feels the need to leave those she loves in the face of her illness. Why is she so against letting her family care for her? Do you agree with her thought that “It was only that they had discovered that they needed to look away from one another to find their futures,” (p. 164)?

  13. Mother-daughter relationships are featured prominently throughout Alone With You. In many instances, the daughter ends up behaving more like a mother figure. Compare these relationships in two or more stories. What do they share, and how are they different?

  14. The theme of caregiving pervades the novel. Why do you think Silver chose to set many of her characters against backdrops of hospitals, sickness, and disease?

  15. Alone with You is full of dysfunctional relationships, affairs, and cheating. Some characters choose to stay with their partner, and some leave. In “Pond,” Burton muses about “how easy it was to flee from love, about the disaster of choosing loneliness,” (p. 63). In “Leap,” Sheila realizes that “it was possible to be okay and not okay at the same time, that a thing – a dog, say, or love – could only exist alongside the possibility of its absence,” (p. 100). Discuss a few of the couples in the novel, and examine the reasons for their choices. Who do you think ends up happiest?

  16. Silver masterfully uses descriptive details and imagery. Share a passage that impressed itself upon your mind, and discuss her use of language and metaphor.

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. In “Night Train to Frankfort,” Helen reads a poem by Pablo Neruda to her mother, Dorothy. Neruda is “the only poet [Dorothy] had gone out of her way to read.” Helen selected “Tonight I can write the saddest lines,” from Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Borrow a copy from your library, or look up more of his poetry online. What do you like or dislike about his poetry? Why do you think it he is Dorothy’s favorite poet?

  2. Marisa Silver’s novel The God of War, earned great acclaim and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Read it as well, and discuss the differences in her style and language. Is her writing different in the novel than it was in short stories?

  3. Visit Marisa Silver’s website at to learn more about the author and her books, sign up to have her call into your book club, or find out if she’ll be doing a reading near you!

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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