Alone With You by Marisa Silver

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Alone With You by Marisa Silver

Silver, Marisa. Alone With You. Simon & Schuster, 2010. ISBN 978-1416590293 176 pp. $

****

Marisa Silver’s protagonists reflect on a variety of life issues–divorce, grandparenthood, depression–from a uniquely not-quite-middle-aged female perspective. The writing is predominantly excellent, with a lovely subtlety to it; Silver can extend a theme without hitting the reader over the head with it. The themes of sex, love and death have universal appeal. The abrupt endings with their notes of commencement feel so deliberately crafted as to make me think the author has really studied the American Short Story, but at least the conclusions aren’t predictable, and each tale leaves the reader with something to think about.

In “Temporary,” Vivian recalls her mother’s long illness and her bolder roommate as she contemplates the transparency and transience of relationships amidst her day job as an office assistant at an adoption agency. “Three Girls” is a snapshot of a family at holiday time, attending a Christmas party and helping some strangers during a blizzard, that focuses on the role each sister has in the family unit. The disturbing “Pond” is about a girl with who gets pregnant, and the responsibility for raising her child, a bright and adorable boy, rests with her aging parents. The title story is about a middle aged mom, recovering from a failed suicide attempt with a backpacking trip with her husband, son Teddy, and Teddy’s new girlfriend Elise.

The standout story for me was “Leap.” It’s finely crafted and balances life and death, reality and possibility through plot (Sheila’s dog attempts suicide, reflecting Sheila’s own state of mind, as her husband has just confessed an affair. Devastated, she sustains a heart attack and he nurses her back to health after a bypass), character (Sheila is a guidance counselor and suspects one client, teen outsider Morton, is gay and maybe suicidal), and setting (Sheila’s flashbacks include to an odd situation with a patron of her pubescent lemonade stand is vivid, and a recollection of her experience on the high school diving team: “occasionally she dreamed of diving, not of meting the water, but of the seconds before, when the possibility of disaster was unimaginable.”)

“How bad did a thing have to be before it was something you would never get over for the rest of your life?” is a central theme. There are some truly wonderful lines, too: “Their marriage felt like the waiting room at the vet’s office–everyone waiting in a in expectant tense.” and, to convey a young woman with baby fat: “Vanessa carried the flesh of her late childhood with her into adolescence just in case, as though she had overpacked, not knowing what she would need.”

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