Sylvie Snow is the heroine of Zoe Fishman’s latest novel and the face of the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States. A complicated and multifaceted issue that has been destroying so many families and lives, is in fact so dangerous because, like the title of the novel, it is Invisible as Air.
At the onset Sylvie is a mother and wife, who has been consumed by grief since the still birth of her daughter three years ago. She keeps up appearances at work and stays involved in her son’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah. Yet, at home everyday things make Sylvie frustrated and resentful. On the anniversary of Delilah’s death, almost in anticipation of pain and annoyance, Sylvie takes one of her husband, Paul’s, prescription pain killers from his recent broken ankle. As a result of the drug, Sylvie finds herself able to cope with her husband’s indelicate attempts to comfort her or to talk about their tragedy. And after three years of avoiding any and all memories of Delilah, she finds herself lighting a Yahrzeit candle in memory of her. It is not long until a pill a day stops being a crutch and instead becomes a necessity.
Sylvie remains in denial long after her addiction starts meddling with her life. By not sugar coating Sylvie’s addiction and the things it makes her do, the author creates a terrifyingly realistic portrait of how this could happen even to a middle class, suburban mom. It is evident that Sylvie has access to support, therapy, doctors, and simply knows better than to take painkillers; yet she still falls victim to addiction.
As Sylvie battles her demons, Paul is dealing with an array of his own issues. Filling their basement with exercise equipment as a coping mechanism for the void in his life, Paul has run up quite a debt and has caused another rift between him and Sylvie.
Throughout the novel, their son, Teddy is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, a rite of passage to becoming a man. But Teddy finds adulthood thrust upon him when he stumbles onto his parents’ darkest secrets. Although a mature and responsible for his age, Teddy is forced to make difficult decision before he feels ready for it. At a young age, he had to witness death and how it changed his family. Yet, his love for his flawed parents makes them redeemable characters. As Teddy completes his Mitzvah project, he feels connected to his heritage and his religion like never before. Teddy validates that his past can in fact make him a wiser, stronger adult.
Fishman’s effective storytelling demonstrates the strength and also the vulnerability of family. Apart, Sylvie, Paul, and Teddy were unraveling each in his or her own way. Yet, when finally forced to come together on the same island where tragedy struck years prior, the Snow family realizes that their shared trauma is what will keep their family afloat.
Anastasia Shymanovich currently lives and works in New York City. She graduated UNCG with a BA in sociology.