Silver Water Essays and Criticism
by Amy Bloom

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The Web of Complex Family Relationships

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘In the tradition of Anais Nin and Sigmund Freud, Amy Blood is a practitioner of both the talking cure and of fiction-writing,’’ writes Victoria Radin in her New Statesman and Society review of Bloom’s first book, the short story collection Come to Me. Bloom had been practicing psychotherapy for eight years before she returned to her childhood love of writing and began working on fiction in her spare time. ‘‘Come to Me is so rich, moving and gracefully written,’’ extols Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, ‘‘it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been doing this all her life.’’ Today, Bloom, who has also published the novel Love Invents Us, divides her time between her therapy practice, her fiction writing, and her family. These different but equally important parts of the author manifest themselves in her stories, which maintain finely drawn characters and demonstrate a clear-eyed comprehension. As Bloom acknowledges, ‘‘all the roles affect my writing. I see a lot of different points of view because I live a lot of different points of view. Understanding has always mattered more to me than assessing, and my writing reflects that.’’

‘‘Silver Water,’’ which was chosen as one of 1992’s Best American Short Stories, is the last in a series of three linked stories, all of which are in her collection. The stories span nearly half a century in the lives of the Silverstein family. The first story, ‘‘Hyacinths,’’ focuses on David Silverstein as a boy; the second story, ‘‘The Sight of You,’’ depicts the affair Galen Silverstein had when her children were young; and ‘‘Silver Water’’ is told from Violet’s viewpoint and centers on her sister Rose, who committed suicide after suffering from schizophrenia for more than ten years.

As narrated, the story illustrates the close, and sometimes difficult, bonds of family. Rose resides at the center of the Silversteins, for she is the neediest. Reflecting both the love Violet has for Rose, as well as the loss that schizophrenia inflicted on Rose and the entire family, ‘‘Silver Water’’ opens and closes on the same image of Rose: a fourteen-year-old girl, throwing her head back in the parking lot of an opera house and letting her lovely voice free. ‘‘She opened her mouth unnaturally wide and her voice came out, so crystalline and bright that all the departing operagoers stood frozen by their cars, unable to take out their keys or open their doors until she had finished, and then they cheered like hell.’’ Violet, who recounts her sister’s life, treasures this image. ‘‘That’s what I like to remember, and that’s the story I told to all of her therapists,’’ Violet says. ‘‘I wanted them to know her. . . . That before her constant tinkling of commercials and fast-food jingles there had been Puccini and Mozart and hymns so sweet and mighty you expected Jesus to come down off his cross and clap.’’ Violet’s memory also provides the aching reminder that, whereas once Rose drew attention for her positive attributes, now she draws attention for her abnormal behavior.

Violet briefly yet hauntingly portrays her sister before and after she became schizophrenic. Before, Rose was talented and beautiful, according to Violet—‘‘ the prettiest girl in Arrandale Elementary School, the belle of Landmark Junior High.’’ Later, she turned into a ‘‘mountain of Thorazined fat.’’ Still, Violet and her parents search for the old Rose inside. Indeed, elements of the old Rose do emerge from time to time, especially during the five years that Rose is under the care of Dr. Thorne. During that period, she lives in a halfway house and sings in a church choir, actions that signify a partial return to the things that had once been of most importance to her: living in a more familial environment (as opposed to an institution) and her music. Although Rose does ‘‘go off from time to time,’’ she exhibits...

(The entire section is 5,194 words.)