In the short story “Silver Water” by Amy Bloom, we enter the life of a family that is being ripped apart by the tragedy of a mental illness, yet is still fiercely loyal to each other. Bloom uses humor in an unexpected way to show the loyalty and solidarity of the family. When they go to their “worst family therapist,” Rose, who has been hospitalized for her illness, is acting out by singing loudly while massaging her breasts. The therapist is horrified, but the family laughs. When the therapist asks, “I wonder why it is that everyone is so entertained by Rose behaving inappropriately,” they continue to laugh. They then turn on the therapist with answers like, “I don’t know. Maybe she’s trying to get you to stop talking about her in the third person.” The rest of the family then agrees: “’Nicely put,’ my mother said, ‘Indeed,’ my father said, ‘F—in’ A,’ Rose said.” The session is cut short after only fourteen minutes, but we see the family’s carefree attitude about it: “Rose was still nuts, but at least we’d all had a little fun.”
This short story is discussed in full detail below, so you may want to read it here before continuing.
The therapist who ends up being the family’s favorite, the only one who is able to help them, is the one who enters into their strange way of dealing with the situation. The new therapist refers to Rose as “Little Nut” when she calls him “Big Nut.” He then goes on to give the entire family nicknames: Doctor Nut, Madame Hickory Nut, and No One’s Nut. Violet, Rose’s younger sister, says that the name “summed up both my sanity and my loneliness.” They relaxed and gave the therapist a chance because he chose to join in their attitude and used it to help them, rather than try to separate them and single Rose out.
Rose improved greatly under this therapist’s treatment, but when he died, she took a turn for the worst. They had to take her home for a while for insurance reasons and they were the only ones to care for Rose—all while she faced a period of having no meds. The extreme difficulty of caring for Rose wears on them all and is the thing that finally separates the family. It seems that Rose understands on some level the difficulty she is causing the family and feels bad for it. When Violet finds Rose outside, sitting in the damp grass with an empty bottle of pills, she does not run for help. She does not try to save her sister. Instead, she sits with her until she dies. She is fearful that her mother will be mad she let Rose die, but instead, her mother says, “I raised warrior queens.” It was as if Rose knew she was causing extreme hardships for them all, and the only way to help her family was for her to be gone. With her suicide, she decided to give the only gift she could present to them—peace. Violet allowed her sister the gift of that same peace in her final resting place—a place where Rose was no longer crazy and suffering. In helping each other find peace, they became a solid unit again, loyal to each other even in the face of death.
My rating: 4 out of 5 = really liked it