Silver Water Summary
by Amy Bloom

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Silver Water Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Written by a psychotherapist, “Silver Water” dares to be funny about a very serious subject, the mental illness of a family member. The story is told in the first person by Violet, the sister of the mentally ill Rose, and begins with an anecdote about the sisters being taken to see the opera La Traviata when Violet was twelve and Rose was fourteen. After the opera, in the parking lot, Rose says, “Check this out” and opens her mouth and sings with what Violet describes as a voice like mountain water in a silver pitcher. Violet relates this incident to all of Rose’s therapists, wanting them to know that before she started aimlessly singing commercials and fast-food jingles, there had been Puccini and Mozart and hymns so sweet “you expected Jesus to come down off his cross and clap.” Violet wants everyone to understand that before Rose became psychotic and gained so much weight that she had to wear maternity tops and sweatpants, she was the prettiest girl in Arrandale Elementary School.

Rose had her initial psychotic break, first recognized by her mother, Galen, and sadly acknowledged by her psychiatrist father, David, when she was fifteen. Violet describes the family therapists they take Rose to see and how the family hates them. The worst therapist they take Rose to see refers to her in the third person even though she is present, a fact that Violet points out and with which the entire family agrees. The best family therapist they meet is Dr. Thorne, a three-hundred-pound Texan whom Rose loves and calls Big Nut. After meeting Dr. Thorne, Rose starts taking her medication, loses fifty pounds, and begins singing at an African American church down the street from the halfway house in which she stays. As time passes, Violet goes to college and Rose manages to cope well; though she hears voices that urge her to do “bad things,” usually Dr. Thorne can bring her back again.

However, after five years of seeing Rose, Dr. Thorne dies. Rose stops taking her medication and gets thrown out of the halfway house for pitching someone down the stairs. The family tries various means to help Rose. At one point, her mother promises her that she can drive the new family car if she will take her medication. While the family waits for Rose’s new insurance to take effect, she gets worse, breaking the furniture and keeping the family up all night. At one point she begins banging her head against the floor, until Violet, who is home from her job teaching English, stops her by throwing herself on the kitchen floor, becoming the spot against which Rose was banging her head. Violet goes to Rose’s room the next morning and, finding her semiconscious from an overdose of pills, allows her to die in her arms. At the funeral, Violet remembers Rose at age fifteen singing with a voice like “silver water” in the parking lot after the opera.


(Short Stories for Students)

Violet’s sister, Rose, starts experiencing schizophrenia as a teenager. Violet remembers Rose before the mental illness hit her, as a beautiful, wonderful older sister. When Rose is fifteen, she has her first psychotic break. Rose’s mother, a musician, realizes that Rose is ‘‘going crazy,’’ even though the father, a psychiatrist, does not realize this. The mother takes Rose to a hospital that day, beginning Rose’s ten-year odyssey back and forth to one hospital or halfway house after another.

Rose has many bad therapists and only a few good ones. The family—Violet; the mother, Galen; and the father, David—also participate in family counseling. Violet recalls the best family therapist they had, a doctor named Dr. Thorne. Under Dr. Thorne’s care, Rose does much better and gains more control of her compulsive behaviors. She is able to move into a halfway house, loses weight, continues to take her medication, begins singing with a church choir, and is able to be brought back more easily when she ‘‘goes off.’’

After five years, however, Dr. Thorne dies, and Rose begins to lose all the...

(The entire section is 1,118 words.)