Amy Bloom’s “Silver Water”

Please address one or more of the following questions in your response. Remember to keep these brief–about a paragraph or so in length.

1) Why do you think Bloom chose Violet as the story’s narrator?  How much do you trust her (Violet) and why?

2) There’s a lot of humor in this story — is it appropriate, given the subject matter?  Why would Bloom include it?

3) By the end of the story, how have your feelings toward the family, especially Violet, changed?  What do you think about these people?  Who’s the most sympathetic?


19 responses to “Amy Bloom’s “Silver Water”

  1. 1) Bloom chose Violet to be the narrator because the author wanted the reader to know the trials and tribulations of having a sibling who is not mentally stable. Stress is inevitable especially when one has a sibling who is visiting hospitals and seeing psychiatrists instead of playing ball or doing activities that siblings would do. I like and trust Violet even from the first paragraph. This is a girl who has unconditional love for her sister. Violet attempts to look past her sister’s ways when others would not. In the first paragraph, the author talks about Rose’s talents as a singer. Violet wishes others would see her as a talented singer and not a psychotic person. Violet also checks up on Rose constantly to see how she’s doing. This was apparent when the author mentioned that Violet would call home everyday.

    2) I think the style of humor used is appropriate in certain contexts only. In this story, I think it is appropriate. I have learned in my education and psychology courses that many people, who are mentally unstable, engage in self stimulation acts. Some would clap their hands repeatedly while others might rock back and forth. Rose, for instance, began rubbing her breasts in front of a psychiatrist. Ironically, the psychiatrist took offense while the family decided to laugh it off. This style of humor would not be appropriate if it was about a typical high school girl who decided to rub her breasts in front of her family and school principal.

    3) I did not lose any respect for Violet at all. She is a girl who is very protective of her sister. It is apparent that she genuinely loves Rose despite her ways. With that being said, I would say that Violet is the most sympathetic character. She realizes that there is a person and an individual underneath the monster like facade. She saw her sister, Rose, as a singer and not a person who is mentally ill.

    In the beginning, I did not like the mother very much. She came across as someone who saw Rose as a mentally unstable person instead of an individual. This was apparent on page 73: “What’s there to say? David, she’s going crazy, she doesn’t need a hart to heart talk with Mom, she needs a hospital.” I respect the mother a lot more in the end. She makes an analogy by saying that I have raised warrior queens. I like the analogy “warrior queens” because of what it represents.

  2. Klaus I agree with your thoughts on violet being the most sympathetic character in the story. I also agree with the mother, as I thought that she came across rather heartless and cold particuarly early in the story. I found myslf having sympathy toward the entire family all throughout the story. I could not imagine having a sibling who suffers from mental disease let alone being a father to a child who is mentally ill. I found the story to be humorous at first especially the scene with the physchiatrist, and rose rubbing her breasts and acting absurd. I believe that Bloom may have attempted to present a very serious subject matter in a little lighter setting, and I think it reads well presented in a comedic way. But like Klaus I felt sympathy toward the whole family and the difficulties that each charachter had to face. Violet with the loss of a sister, and the parents with the tremendous burden of a mentally ill daughter, as well as the pain they must have felt in regards to Rose.

    • Thanks, Colin. I agree that Violet is initially presented as the most sympathetic character. It might be interesting for others to consider whether or not that portrayal deepens or changes as the story progresses.

  3. 1) I think Bloom chose Violet as the narrator because it seemed that she was the most stable out of the family. Her mother and father were always in a more troubled state trying to take care of Rose, so having the story written in their point of view might have been diferent. Also, it seemed that Violet was close to Rose so she probably knew her the best. I do trust Violet’s narration, the reason being that she was a caring sister who really knew Rose better than anyone else.

    2) Although Rose’s condition is sad, I feel the humor in this story is appropriate. It shows a lighter side of the family and that they try to make the best out of it. For example, when the family is in the therapist office they laugh about the things Rose does and says, which shows that they still love her no matter what condition she is in.

    3) I would have to agree with Colin and Klaus in that Victoria was the most sympathetic character in the story. I liked her from the beginning of the story, especially when she described Rose’s sweet voice. As for the mother and father I can sympathize with them because they must have been such patient people to continually take care of Rose. Of course they would be frustrated at times it is only natural.

    • Great point re. humor in the story. It’s also very characterizing, as shared jokes between family members tend to be very idiosyncratic, so getting to know what makes these characters laugh together helps us get to know them.

  4. 1. I think Bloom chose Violet to be the narrator because out of all the characters she is the most understated. In the story Rose is described as crazy, the father as sad, and the mother as eccentric. But the only adjective used to describe Violet, is lonely. Because of her personality, Violet is better suited to tell the story. I also think that having Violet talk about Rose—from a sibling’s perspective—makes the story more objective than if it had been told from one of the parent’s perspectives, as it is harder for a parent to extract his or herself from any situation concerning their child. But throughout all the Rose “drama,” Violet is the quiet bystander and her narration is based on everything she observes. The way she starts her story by describing Rose with such love and esteem makes me trust Violet as a narrator. She doesn’t judge Rose for being the way she is or for putting the family through hell, but rather accepts it as part of what it is to have and love a sister.

    2. The humor Bloom incorporates into the story is appropriate and subtle. In life, nothing is entirely serious or entirely comical, and Bloom does a good job reminding us of that. Some humor needs to be present when dealing with the topic of mental health because so often it is funny, and we have to be able to laugh about it! I also feel that being able to laugh along with Violet and her family helps to connect us better to them and their situation.

    3. By the end of the story I think I respect the parents more than I did in the beginning. At first I thought they (especially the mother) would be indifferent and uninvolved but they proved faithful to Rose in the end. I can empathize with these people (especially Violet) because I’ve grown up with a disabled brother and can relate to some of the things Violet and her family had to suffer through because of Rose.

  5. Ryan MacGillivray

    1. I think the author chose Violet as the narrorator because she was the sister and siblings have more of a connection with each other than a mother or father can have with thier child. Violet was ver close to Rose and I think cared for her deeply. I also think that Violet has the most objective view point on the entire situation, and she is also the most sympathetic character because of her close relationship with Rose. I trust Violet as the narrarator because of her relationship and think that she offers the most trustworthy account of the story, more so than her parents and espescially Rose could.

    2. I think the humor is apporopriate for this story because this family needs the humor to survive. I cant even imagine the emotional rollercoaster they deal with on a daily basis and it is too exhausting to be upset and depressed all the time you have to laugh at the situation everyonce in a while. The family is probably used to this behavior and over time you can become less sensitive towards it. although it is a serious situation they would end up driving themselves crazy if they couldnt bring some levity to the situation everyonce in a while. I think the author used humor is the story to show this and also to show that no matter how crazy Rose is her family still loves her and enjoys her on some level.

    3. This story ended sort of abruptly, it was unexpected and other thatn fact that she was mentally ill, the events prior to Rose killer herself didnt really indicate that she was on that path. I only really have sympathy for Violet she was the closet to Rose and I think endoured the most even more so than her parents. The parents to me just seem hopeless and helpless which illicit some sympathy but for some reason that i cant identify, I dont have much sympathy for them. I feel the opposite im happy for them now because Rose’s death ends thier suffering, they can get back to thier lives and not worry about thier daughter anymore, I dont think its wrong to call Rose’s death bitter sweet.

  6. 2. I agree with everyone else that the humor in this story is appropriate because it provides an emotional outlet for the family, that it allows them to find humor and goodness in a situation that can seem so hopeless and bleak. But I would also argue that it does more than that. It provides an important role for the story as a whole, for the overall theme of having a mentally ill family member. If the entire story revolved around sadness, around that feeling of hopelessness, it would be easy to simply pity Violet and her parents, and I don’t think that’s the message here. Yes, it is ultimately a sad story, but it is also a story of how much happiness Rose brought to her family, to the world, how much she was loved. If their wasn’t humor and lighthearted moments, the story would portray Rose as what Violet initially states she doesn’t people to see Rose as – “I wanted them to know her, to know that who they saw was not all there was to see.” She is more than “crazy”, or a burden, or a young, pretty, talented girl who became sick and ultimately committed suicide. Her story wasn’t solely tragic. It has humor and strength and love to it. I think that’s the role humor plays here. It isn’t just a story of losing Rose. It is a story of what Rose gave them. “Rose was still nuts, but at least we’d all had a little fun.” Rose’s life ended too soon, but at least they had gotten to have her in their lives.

    3. Having said that, I think I do become more sympathetic to the family as the story continues on. I agree with most that I like the parents more as time goes on and we can see them more as people and less of parents trying to simply solve problems. There is a softness to them at the end, a tenderness, that is missing a bit in the beginning of the story. I think throughout the entire story, Violet is the most sympathetic character, both because she is the narrator, and because she appears to be (granted, through her own voice) the character responsible for things. Even at the therapist’s she thinks, “In their manual, it must say, if you think the parents are too weird, try talking to the sister.” When Rose has to move back home, Violet calls constantly and comes over to check in on things. I think because she seems to feel the closest to Rose, she takes on the role of caregiver, both for Rose and for the family as a whole. She is a “warrior queen”, protecting them all, in some way. Violet’s love for Rose is apparent throughout the story, and even before finding her in the woods, Violet “could feel her absence.” I thought this to be an important line as it portrayed the closeness of their relationship while also foreshadowing what was to come, and perhaps what was still to come after the end of the story, that for the rest of her life Violet would feel the absence of her sister, whom she had loved and lost.

    • Thanks–I like your point about the “tenderness” to the parents at the end of the story. Others, it might be interesting to talk about what specific actions by the characters (especially towards the end) influence your feelings about them.

  7. 2. I agree with everyone as well, the humor was definitely needed for not only the story, but for the family. It brings the family together and being able to laugh at themselves makes them seem “normal.”

    3. By the end of the story I do feel differently about the family. And I think the main reason is they are just worn down. This story shows the incredible strength of their ability to just come together for one common goal. I think one of the most touching parts of the story was at the end when Violet thought her Mom would be mad because she “let her favorite die.”

    All the characters showed sympathy throughout the story. Violet always held her sister in a special place in her heart. But, as Rose went from place to place and therapist to therapist, she started distancing herself and wanting a life of her own. Violet was comforted by her mother’s words, “Lead your life, Vi. She’s leading hers. The mother, I believe, was worn down after everything Rose had been through. And I think the father was very sympathetic throughout. He was very consciousness about the whole family’s feelings and had a way of seeing the bigger picture when his wife would focus just the situation at hand.

    • Thanks, Michelle. You point out a very key scene, when Violet worries that her mother would be angry at her. I wonder, did anyone think that the mother’s anger would have been justified in the situation?

  8. 1. I agree with what almost everyone else is saying. I think that Violet was chosen as the narrator because a there is a special relationship between two sisters compared to a girl and either one of her parents. I think that Violet understood Rose the most and had the closest connection to her. I can understand this having two sisters myself. I trusted Violet from the opening paragraph when she talked about Rose as the prettiest girl in the school on page 72. She also referred to Rose on page 72 as “perfect.” Violet cared for and loved Rose so much. It was Violet in the middle of the night who could first feel Rose’s absence, on page 78. This once again shows the special connection between sisters.

    I think that the humor included in the story was very appropriate. The subject matter is extremely serious and humor is one method people use as a coping device. This shows that the family has been through so much with this unfortunate disease and they are looking for any reason to smile with each other and make the best out of the situation.

    By the end of the story, I have great sympathy for the entire family. It is a tragedy for any person to have to live with a mental disease. The family of the patient is also suffering. I feel that they all are sympathetic. I do not think you can say that one person is more sympathetic than the other in this situation. Each member of Rose’s family was with her through her struggle and did what they could to help her. They had different coping and grieving methods which were shown at the end of the story, but that is personal and has nothing to do with how much they equally cared for Rose.

    • Thanks, Elyse. I think you’re absolutely correct in the reasons behind the story’s humor and in the choice of Violet as narrator. But–as many responses have brought this up–I wonder if it’s strictly true that each member of the family “did what they could” to help Rose. Does anyone have a somewhat different reading of the story?

  9. 1.) Violet is best as narrator of Rose’s story because she is neither a musician nor a psychiatrist. In Amy Bloom’s story, Mom is a musician, Dad is a psychiatrist. That’s a little convenient for the story but it still works. Violet can give us a point of view that is untarnished by a professional opinion. Vi just loved her sister and so, as a reader, I trust her. Having lost a sister, I’m a bit more inclined to understand so my opinion may not be reliable.

    2.) Humor is so, so necessary in dealing with the memory of someone that you love that is no longer here. Maudlin is not fun to read and it doesn’t engage the reader, especially when it’s about someone the reader can’t know first-hand. Rose was not fun on a day to day basis but Violet was able to develop a certain amount of distance as the little sister that went to college. She also knew her before she became someone that nobody can know. She points out the positive, the gifts that her sister had where her parents would, more than likely, have focused on where they had failed, what qualities they hadn’t passed on. The clear implication, in my humble opinion, is that Mom’s side of the family made Rose a genius musically but didn’t prepare her for the psychological burden of being an artist. On the other hand, Dad’s influence as an expert in psychology didn’t help because he can’t apply a scientific formula to a person. Especially his own child.

    3.) I think that Violet is more of a hero than I could ever be. She has witnessed the embarrassment that her sister (crass and not exactly beautiful) has brought her family through in such a kind way that I’m shocked at the author’s ability to accept it for it is. Without making it too much of a sad tale (by using humor), Bloom gives us a slice of live that isn’t too hard to swallow. (Someone should attack me for that cliche statement and I’ll be disappointed if they don’t.)

  10. I think Violet is the narrator because it allows the reader to better understand the story. She is the best person to tell the story because she and Rose had a really strong bond. It is shown in the story when Rose is throwing a tantrum on the kitchen floor and suddenly stops and apologizes when Violet throws herself on the floor. Violet’s point of view is from someone who simply loves their sister despite everything. It eliminates the reader drawing biased opinions. For example if the father was the narrator one could state the story is from a professional opinion and lacks evidence. With Violet being the narrator its a story about a family going through a rough time when one member becomes ill.

    The humor in the story allows the reader to be more relaxed. The story is a really sad reality and laughter can loosen the sadness a reader may feel while reading it. Also many people with mental illnesses do things normal people may not do. For instance Rose rubbing her breasts. I think that just made the story more believable and entertaining.

  11. 1) I think the author chose Violet as the narrator for the story simply because Violet was the best person “for the job”. I didn’t see the father or mother as characters who would write a story about their child and having the story be third person point of view would have been distanced. Allowing Violet to tell the story, made the story more personal.
    I think I trust Violet… I think. I trust her because I’m a sister and I would do anything and everything to help my sister… But then i don’t trust her because I would never let my sister die… but then I feel like i can’t judge… i really can’t decide how I feel about her.

    2) I have a cousin who is schizophrenic, so I see why to certain people the “humor” would be disturbing (for example, their psychiatrist Mr. Walker). There have been incidents with my cousin where strangers look sympathetic and sad, but we’ll be laughing, cheering her on. The thing is, these little “incidents” that might be “inappropriate” are all that not only the family, but the child(in this case, Rose) have. I feel that these strange incidents color the otherwise not so amazing life of Rose.

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