For this week’s Deal Me In story I drew the 2 of Spades – Amy Bloom’s “Silver Water.” The story can be found in the collection Come To Me, but I read it online at Beyond the Couch: The Journal of the American Association of Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work. From that association, you may suspect that this story is heavy and emotional and perhaps a bit of a downer, and you would be so very right. But it is also strangely positive and, if not exactly uplifting, at least injected with humor and ultimately satisfying.
The story is fairly short. It follows the progression of the deteriorating mental state of a girl named Rose and the experience of her family, through the eyes of her sister Violet. Rose has a beautiful singing voice, likened to “mountain water in a silver pitcher.” She stands to have a brilliant career in the arts ahead of her. But then she experiences the first of many psychotic breaks, derailing her future and turning the world of her family inside out. Rose’s mindset swings between despondent, violent, withdrawn and jubilant, and her behavior is often wholly public-inappropriate.
The family is incredibly close-knit and handles their situation amazingly well, often with humor. They go through a string of therapists and doctors, some good, many bad. Eventually they meet Dr. Thorne, who provides the balm the injured family so sorely needs:
“The day we met our best family therapist started out almost as badly. We scared off a resident and then scared off her supervisor, who sent us Dr. Thorne. Three hundred pounds of Texas chili, cornbread, and Lone Star beer, finished off with big black cowboy boots and a small string tie around the area of his neck.
“O frabjous day, it’s Big Nut.” Rose was in heaven and stopped massaging her breasts immediately.
“Hey, Little Nut.” You have to understand how big a man would have to be to call my sister “little.” He christened us all, right away. “And it’s the good Doctor Nut, and Madame Hickory Nut, ‘cause they are the hardest damn nuts to crack, over here in the overalls and not much else is No One’s Nut”—-a name that summed up both my sanity and my loneliness. We all relaxed.
Dr. Thorne was good for us, Rose moved into a halfway house whose director loved Big Nut so much that she kept Rose even when Rose went through a period of having sex with everyone who passed her door. She was in a fever for a while, trying to still the voices by fucking her brains out.
Big Nut said, “Darlin’, I can’t. I cannot make love to every beautiful woman I meet, and furthermore, I can’t do that and be your therapist too, It’s a great shame, but I think you might he able to find a really nice guy, someone who treats you just as sweet and kind as I would if I were lucky enough to be your beau, I don’t want you to settle for less,” And she stopped propositioning the crack addicts and the alcoholics and the guys at the shelter. We loved Dr. Thorne.”
Things become more centered for Rose and her family. Rose starts singing with a church choir. The parents are able to sleep better and get more involved in their own careers. Violet finishes school and starts teaching. But several years down the road, when Dr. Thorne dies, everything falls apart in dramatic and spectacular fashion.
Problems with insurance and the (criminal, in my opinion) insurance company vagaries about “prior conditions” mean that Rose must come home to live with her parents. Things go badly, and her condition deteriorates rapidly. Finally, things come to a head.
As short as this story is, I can’t be more specific without spoiling the entire plot. I definitely recommend giving this tale a few minutes of your reading time, as I was immediately hooked by the language and, despite the bleak nature of the plot, I was spellbound and could not stop reading. Yes, I cried. Amy Bloom treats her subject and characters with respect and allows them to be honest, yet manages to use humor to help the medicine go down a bit smoother. “Silver Water” is a brilliant and humane treatment of a difficult topic, and I thought it was a wonderful and worthwhile read.