Marisa Silver's new collection of short stories, Alone with You, is being published by Simon & Schuster and she's justifiably excited. Along with giving readings in New York and Los Angeles, she's signed up to participate in ElectricLiterature.com's quarterly anthology of five literary short stories delivered in electronic formats for the Kindle and iPhone with paperback print editions via POD. “I used to be a complete Luddite about the new technology, but now I don't see as many negatives as I thought I would in terms of the way people access information [a self-described loner, Silver's even joined Facebook]. I'll be very sad if books are no longer printed on paper, but any way a person chooses to read a book is fine with me.”
The former filmmaker—Silver directed such features as Old Enough and He Said, She Said as well as episodes of television dramas—is proud of the eight stories in Alone with You, which feature characters as disparate as an Eastern European construction worker repairing a home in Los Angeles, a couple with a grown developmentally disabled daughter who finds herself pregnant, a young woman working as a nurse's aide at a V.A. hospital, and a family of three girls being raised by alcoholic parents. While on the surface these people appear to have nothing in common with Silver and her secure life, which includes her husband, director Ken Kwapis, their two teenagers, and an affectionate yellow Lab, she notes otherwise: “I don't know any of these people per se, and I live in a very private world with my imagination and my family, but these people don't feel different from me. They just feel like other people in the world, and what I'm interested in are the emotional layers underneath that we all have in common.” Family and place figure prominently in Silver's work. Her novel No Direction Home (Norton, 2005) addressed the passions that define family; God of War (Simon & Schuster, 2008), Silver's breakout title, a novel about an adolescent battling for his own identity, was nominated for an L.A. Times Book Award in fiction; and the short story collection Babe in Paradise (Norton, 2001) chronicles the unforgettable characters who live in Los Angeles.
The stories in Alone with You are intensely personal characterizations of modern life, yet, Silver says, “I'm not writing about me, I'm writing about the world and what I see and observe. What drives me to write is to create a formal framework for my observations, not to figure out my emotional life.”
This reflects Silver's belief that there is both a sense of connection and a sense of distance that is universal, even in the most intimate relationships, and this theme runs throughout the collection. Silver is also drawn to the ability of people to be resilient, even in the most difficult of times. “I think I understand the ultimate optimism of human endeavor. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we keep trying to love, to be better, to make connections even though we get slapped in the face by love over and over again—and yet [we] try again.”
Silver, 49, left the film industry and returned to school in 1991 as a student at the Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program for Writers in North Carolina. “When I write stories,” she says, “I try not to know what my characters are up to. I know that when I'm heading in a certain direction, making them conform to some idea I have, the stories become leaden. It's only when I have no earthly idea what's going on and why these people are doing what they're doing that the story surprises me and has a shot at surprising the reader. Flannery O'Connor always talked about the inevitability that you would not have expected. That's what I try so hard to do.”
Why did she return to the short form after God of War? “I love dealing with the issue of compression in stories, and how to tell a story with as few moves as possible,” Silver says. “Everything counts. I love the high-wire act of it, the magical way so little information can yield so much.”