The Brothers Silver
As is abundantly clear from the outset of The Brothers Silver, the lives of Jules and Leon Silver have been marred by dysfunction since they were young boys. The pair are being raised (or, perhaps more accurately, left to raise themselves) by a mentally ill mother and an abusive, misogynistic father. Ethel, their mother, suffers from bipolar disorder. When she is in a rare “up” period she is great with her boys, taking care of their emotional needs and ensuring that their physical needs were met, but when she is in a “down” period, she is overcome by depression and lethargy, her suicidal thoughts leaving her with little inclination to care for her children. Edwin, their father, is a violent womanizer who gaslights their mother and puts her down at every opportunity. The extent to which Ethel’s troubles are caused by her mental illness, rather than by Edwin’s actions, is never quite clear.
Given this background, it’s no surprise that The Brothers Silver often makes for a harrowing and upsetting read. The parents are actually in the process of divorcing when the book opens, but this just leads to more upheaval and distress for Jules and Leon as they are shunted between their mother and father, depending on which parent is in the least bad state at the time. Both Ethel and Edwin are vindictive and incapable of putting their children first. The boys see and hear things that they are not emotionally equipped to deal with, and it causes damage that follows them into adulthood.
As soon as they’re able, both boys attempt to flee from their parents’ influence. Jules leaves first, heading to college after a confrontation with his father; around a year later, Leon runs away to San Francisco with a friend. Of course, the same patterns continue to repeat themselves as Jules oscillates between guilt, anger, and sadness about his past, while Leon finds it difficult to trust and takes pains to avoid any kind of responsibility. Although each brother has been the most constant presence in the other’s life, they are not particularly close, with the differences in how they were treated by their parents having driven a considerable wedge between them. There’s an interesting contrast in how the brothers feature and are portrayed in The Brothers Silver: the story shows more of Jules’ perspective, but it shows more of Leon from other characters’ perspectives. This neatly reflects their different natures and the differing treatment they have received.
Aside from making use of a number of perspectives, Marc Jampole weaves the story using a variety of literary styles and devices, including an epistolary chapter, a chapter comprised entirely of a conversation between an aunt and uncle, and a chapter reflecting Ethel’s disturbed internal monologue. It all combines to render the story more of a puzzler than it might otherwise have been, as it can take time to figure out who is narrating each chapter and what their motivation is. Ultimately, The Brothers Silver makes for a deep and contemplative read; certainly not a happy story, it prompts the reader to question the past and, despite the unlikelihood, hope for a better future for Jules and Leon.
|Owl Canyon Press
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