I read really fast and was expecting to finish this small, 153-page book relatively quickly, all the more that it’s a collection of short stories.
How wrong I was.
Alone With You: Stories is one of the most compelling and honest portrayals of human nature written by a (relatively) new author that I have read in a long time. Emotions are treated like the multidimensional and exquisitely complex things they are rather than the boiled down version we are often treated to in contemporary literature. The intricacies of these short stories are so masterfully weaved together that they form a seamless tapestry reflecting raw slivers of contemporary Americana. The harshness of some of the stories is blunted by the skill with which Marisa Silver presents them to the reader.
Each story is like a rich truffle; with an incredible variety of points of view (the latch-kid child, the mother of a mentally challenged child, the father of a teen, the daughter whose mother is dying, the woman with a mental illness, the woman whose husband leaves her for another, the patient attendant at a VA hospital) it is certain that at least one character will strike particularly close to home for every reader.
The intricacies of the stories in Alone With You, seemingly easily put together, are also a testament to the acuity of the author’s perception. She is as skilled an observer as she is a writer, and the two combine to create these incredible adventures into the darker side of human nature while managing at the same time to remain delightfully lighthearted. The father who hit his son in anger; the friend who sleeps with her roommate’s boyfriend; the mentally challenged young woman impregnated by Down syndrome patient: these actions are treated like burdens to be carried rather than over-the-top melodramatic events. In an era of sensationalism, it’s quite refreshing.
Even more refreshing is that the characters in Alone With You are far from perfect; some of them can actually make the reader quite uncomfortable. Amongst other things that can make readers uncomfortable are the little shocks as the characters are openly curious about typically taboo things, especially for women. I fidgeted when I read about Sheila in “Leap,” a preteen thrilled at the attention of a sexual predator. My friend’s button was pushed in “The Visitor,” when Candy is fascinated by the different gashes, wounds, and stumps of VA hospital patients.
But these beautifully weaved tales of surprising introspective quality turn these situations into occasions to reflect on human nature, be it our own or others’. They also will leave you feeling uplifted as the characters, of all ages and both genders, display a sense of strength as they go through mundane, day to day hardships of life without losing the ability to reflect and grow from their experiences.
The word “slivers” has been previously used to describe the tales in this collection, and appropriately so. Each short story shares enough about each character and her situation that the reader can empathize without getting too emotionally involved, thus hampering our ability to reflect in a dispassionate way. I was reminded of literary para-sailing as I worked my way through Alone With You, since just like the author with her stories, you don’t know when and where the wind will pick you up and where it’ll take you, but you know that you are going to enjoy the process and gain a lot from it.
Alone with you is a fantastic collection of short stories that will give readers insights into the human psyche, whether it is evoked by the characters, or the secondary figures. These often dryly humorous stories are introspective in an unsentimental way, making them all the more powerful, while overall, Marisa Silver’s work remains humble yet moving, lending it strength and significance.
First published here on Blogcritics.