Magical Realism Meets the Brothers Grimm
Marisa Silver is one of the best lesser-known writers of our time and I was frankly stunned by this new novel – a most unusual take on magical realism. The very juxtaposition of magic and reality. Every word, every scene, every possibility is captivating, demanding that willing suspension of disbelief.
On the surface it’s a fable about a girl named Pavla, a dwarf born to elderly parents, who undergoes a serious of transformations when her parents, and a con artist, among others, attempt to fix her form. You might say it’s a book about metamorphosis. Silver says it has much to do with a woman’s body and both the travesties and joys inherent in being female.
And then there is the young man who loves Pavla, at first sight, even as he is repelled by her body, and the novel proceeds to weave their stories together as their destinies converge, and part, and merge again. At one point, having been found insane by the court, he is in an asylum, and ponders the meaning of sanity, another interesting subtext.
The problem makes him wonder if the difference between the sane and the demented is only a matter of language… people are only determined to be sane by the virtue of not being considered insane, and so, having been proven mad in a court of law, it is now impossible for him to prove the opposite.
A fable as a rule ends with a lesson, or some sort of moral dilemma to be resolved. There are more than a few in these pages. The nature of acceptance. The essence of beauty. The meaning of time. Silver sets the tale in an unnamed place at the start of the industrial revolution at the turn of the 20th century, where indoor plumbing is coming to this largely rural setting, and mechanical inventions abound. The great contradiction between intimacy and expediency.
In the end, however, this tale is about love. Love and forgiveness and courage and resilience in the face of ignorance, condemnation and despair. From page one, you will root for Pavla and will want to hold this book in your hand from page to page until the lovely end.
Time is personal and particular. A woman will talk about the time when she was a little girl and picnicked at a lake with her family… Someone might tell the story of the time it took to give birth… “I remember a time when”… the women are always saying to one another… they tell stories to pass the time.
The prose is as crisp and beautifully descriptive, maybe better, as Silver’s last novel, Mary Coin, which I reviewed here and recommended to book groups, a story based on the crossroads of the photographer Dorothea Lange and her most famous depression-era subject, the Migrant Mother.
One more example of the many thoughts to contemplate:
Time passes, but it does not move forward. It surrounds her. She is at its center. Even though she has nowhere to go, she feels borne by time. She is not confined within this small space. She travels through something that is without boundary. She is the flow itself, shifting and roiling, changing but unchanged.
A very fine novel available in hardcover or for your favorite e-reader.