Style is everything in “Silver Water.” The plot is minimal, and the theme of the pain and difficulty a family experiences when a family member suffers mental illness is obvious. However, neither plot nor theme constitutes the appeal of the story. Rather it is the clever, brittle, witty tone of Violet, the narrator, that gives the story its energy and charm. For example, when Rose begins singing in the choir of an African American church, Violet describes her as “bigger, blonder, and pinker than any two white women could be.” She describes Dr. Thorne’s funeral as like a Lourdes for the mentally ill. People were shaking so badly from years of taking medication, she says, that they fell out of the pews. Both the crazy people and the not-so-crazy huddled together in the church like “puppies at the pound.” Although the actuality of what Violet describes here is certainly not funny, the way she describes it is calculated to make the reader laugh.
However, it is not only the comic point of view that makes the story work, but also the tenderness and love that Violet simultaneously expresses toward her sister, both at the beginning when she describes that moment when Rose sings in the parking lot, her voice crystalline and bright, and at the end, when she cradles Rose in her arms and sits with her until she dies of an overdose.
The perspective that Bloom brings to mental illness in this story would perhaps sound brittle and uncaring except for the fact that Violet and, indeed, her whole family have earned the right to take a comic approach to Rose’s mental illness. Furthermore, because Bloom is a psychotherapist, she also convinces the reader that she has earned the right to take a less than serious approach. The tone of the story gives the reader permission to laugh at what is at once both terribly sad and also very funny. That Bloom does this with such cleverness may be too facile to some readers, but nevertheless, the success of her book Come to Me, which was nominated for the National Book Award and sold very well, seems to suggest that she has given readers permission to respond to the mystery of mental illness with kind amusement.