The Broth­ers Silver

September 1, 2020

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.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Marc Jampole

  1. Is The Broth­ers Sil­ver a Jew­ish nov­el or a nov­el with Jew­ish characters?

  2. How is the issue of the Jew as out­sider explored through­out the novel?

  3. Dis­cuss the rela­tion­ship of the two broth­ers. What is more of a dri­ving force: Jules’s jeal­ousy or his desire to pro­tect Leon?

  4. Does pre­sent­ing each chap­ter in a dif­fer­ent point of view add rich­ness to the nov­el or does it get in the way?

  5. 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?

  6. Leon’s lifestyle and beliefs pro­vide a con­trast to the con­cept of the Amer­i­can Dream.” How con­vinc­ing a case does he make?

  7. 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?

  8. Of which oth­er nov­els does The Broth­ers Sil­ver remind you?

  9. 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.

  10. How much should we blame Ed Sil­ver for the emo­tion­al prob­lems of his wife?

  11. 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?

  12. 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?

  13. 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?

  14. 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?

  15. 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?