Silver has reached a mere 170 miles beyond the limits of her Los Angeles home and delivered a vivid dispatch from another world, utterly different yet all too familiar, in which her battered family wants nothing more than to keep "safe from the incessant harms that came of living."
This week, her new short story collection, Alone With You, hits the stands, and in preparation for her appearance Wednesday at Skylight Books, she will be guest blogging here for a few days. To warm you all up for her appearance, I invited her to sit for a Three-Minute Interview, a quasi-regular feature in which the first three questions are customized and the remaining seven are the same for all comers. And away we go ...
1) Haven’t you heard the short story collection is dead? And yet you keep turning them out (with distinction, I might add). What keeps bringing you back for more?
MARISA SILVER: Yeah, the short story and its multiple deaths. All those pronouncements about things being over - the hula hoop, say, or having non-mediated conversations with actual human beings - they're usually wrong. Every time I read a great short story - a William Trevor, a Deborah Eisenberg - I'm brought back to why I wanted to write in the first place. The short story, to me, carries the essence of what is magical about writing: that a full human being can be conjured in a sentence, that an emotional state can be suggested with two or three behavioral gestures, that something ineffable but essential about life can be conveyed in a mere twenty. Sometimes you stand in front of a painting at a museum and the image just hits you. It transports you. With one gaze, an entire narrative opens up and you are enlarged. That's what a great short story can do.
2. If “you have to write a lot more” is the most obvious difference, what would you say is the least obvious and most interesting difference between writing a short story and writing a novel?
MARISA SILVER: The least obvious difference between writing short stories and writing novels is that what you decide not to say is as important as what you decide to say. A story should suggest all that you decided not to tell within its pages. It should suggest relationships and history that you don't go into, rooms that you don't describe. The negative space of a story is half the story you're writing.
3. The stories in this new collection were clearly written at different times but when you pull them together do you become aware of a unifying theme or concern in your body of work?
MARISA SILVER: I never ever think about theme or meaning when I write. I write stories and hope that they convey something to a person who reads them. If I start to think about meaning, the stories cease to surprise me and then I know they won't surprise anyone else. But, once I write a collection, it's interesting to look at the stories and see where they converge, what kind of emotional weather system seems to pervade. In ALONE WITH YOU, I think the stories all circle around the idea of what it means to try to be intimate with another person, and how, paradoxically, at the moment when you might be closest to someone, the boundaries of your identity are most clearly etched, and so you also feel most separate. I think this duality between connection and separation is something I feel in my own life, and the stories seem to be working to try to explore this.
4) What is the best book we’ve never heard of.
MARISA SILVER: Well, most people haven't heard of A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor - well EV readers might have, but they are a rare group - but it is one of my absolute favorite books. I adore Peter Taylor and this story about the adult children of a southern gentleman who are horrified to find out that he intends to remarry is remarkable for its economy, it's elegance, and it's window into a world of Southern mores. It's gorgeous.
5) Windows or Mac?
MARISA SILVER: Mac.
6) Why do you live where you live?
MARISA SILVER: That is such a layered question, but the truth is, I live in Los Angeles because one afternoon, I got struck with an idea. I was raised in New York City. In my twenties, I was a filmmaker and one day, just as I was about to move into a new apartment, I realized that I had to go to Los Angeles. It was the most unexamined, impulsive decision I've ever made. Within a month, I had packed my bags and I was on a plane. I often look back and think, what would have happened if I hadn't made that split decision on that day?
7) What was the most memorable meal of your life?
MARISA SILVER: Termites in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Okay, that's not a meal, but it was definitely a memorable appetizer.
8) What was the last library book you took out and why?
MARISA SILVER: Let's talk about the library book I never returned. "The Gold and Gods of Peru." I took it out of the Society Library in New York in 1970. I never returned it. The more I didn't return it, the guiltier I felt. It haunts me to this day. I used it in The God of War. Maybe some old librarian will see it, dig up my fines, and send me the bill and I will finally have expiated this sin.
9) Name three things on your desk right now that aren’t books or computer equipment.
MARISA SILVER: A fan. The cloth I use to clean my glasses. A gift certificate for a massage. I hate massages. But I think it's probably a character flaw to hate massages, so I keep the gift certificate close by to remind myself that I could use some improvement.
10) What’s at the top of your Netflix queue?
MARISA SILVER: Lolita. Just finished re-reading. Want to see it again.
Remember, Marisa Silver will be guest blogging here next week, and will be appearing on Wednesday, April 14 at Skylight Books. See you there!
Author photo credit: Bader Howar