Jules and Leon Silver sit at a dusty Formica table in a cold kitchen, drinking warm sugar water. Downstairs in the basement, their mother is unconscious, having swallowed hundreds of Librium while the brothers were at Boy Scout camp, her latest suicide attempt. The food cupboards are empty. The phone doesn’t give a dial tone. As the sun goes down, the kitchen grows cold. The boys sit in silence, waiting for their mother to die. She doesn’t, but the guilt and anger they feel haunt the brothers for decades. The Brothers Silver follows Jules and Leon as they try to find their unanchored way through the cultural upheavals of the second half of the twentieth century. What lies in store for the Silver brothers? Recovery or turmoil? The 12 chapters of The Brothers Silver unfold in ten voices, each of which has its own language and style, making the novel a tour de force of technique in the American tradition of accessible literary innovation established by Heller, Pynchon, and Wallace.
The Brothers Silver
September 1, 2020
Courtesy of Marc Jampole
- Is The Brothers Silver a Jewish novel or a novel with Jewish characters?
- How is the issue of the Jew as outsider explored throughout the novel?
- Discuss the relationship of the two brothers. What is more of a driving force: Jules’s jealousy or his desire to protect Leon?
- Does presenting each chapter in a different point of view add richness to the novel or does it get in the way?
- Does Jules fail to live up to his responsibilities to his family or does he do the best he can for them, as a child and as an adult?
- Leon’s lifestyle and beliefs provide a contrast to the concept of the “American Dream.” How convincing a case does he make?
- The first and last chapters unfold in the irregular rhymes and rhythms of modern poetry. Does the rhyming in these chapters make the novel more or less enjoyable?
- Of which other novels does The Brothers Silver remind you?
- There are several survivors of trauma in the novel besides Jules and Leon, some doing well and some a mess. Discuss how the theme of the survivor plays out in the novel.
- How much should we blame Ed Silver for the emotional problems of his wife?
- By the end of his trip in the last chapter, what has Jules learned about himself and his relationship to his family and the rest of the world?
- Several male characters in the novel, such as Ed Silver, Ed’s father and Del Gatesberg, express misogynistic ideas? Are any of the male characters feminists?
- The Brothers Silver explores a number of social issues, such as civil and LGBTQ rights, the war economy, global warming, and suburban culture. Where does the author stand on these issues?
- The novel also contrasts American political and social beliefs in the 1970’s and today. Does the author like what’s happened over the past 40 – 50 years?
- The novel makes many references to music, and especially pop music. In what ways does the novel use music to set the scene, create a mood or illuminate what a character is feeling?
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