Prairies Book Review article on The Brothers Silver Calls It “Powerfully Told…. A Soaring and Haunting Tale…”

In the May 29th edition of the Prairies Book Review:

The Brothers Silver by Marc Jampole

Powerfully told… A soaring and haunting tale.

Transcendent and hard-hitting, Jampole’s ambitious literary tale takes readers into meandering lives of two brothers as they try to survive their traumatic childhood. With a mother who is prone to frequent mental break-downs, attempting suicide more than often and a father who is never there, the brothers Jules and Leon Silver’s lives are more than troubled. They barely survive their traumatic childhood, venturing on different life paths later. Will they heal or lose themselves in insecurities and chaos of their earlier lives? Jampole writes with an assured hand as he describes the intricacies of the boys’ bond with each other and their parents. The shifts and complexities that happen in the Silvers’ lives are ripe with ups and downs and make more than a mere backdrop of other people’s tortured stories. With poetic precision, Jampole captures the brothers’ emotions of helplessness, insecurity, and confusion and a sense of a new possibility (experienced by Jules while on his long road trip). He beautifully conveys their constant struggles, inner turmoil, the shared trauma, and the underlying restlessness, and in due process, he not only delves into their sibling bond but also the questions of bad parenting, long-lasting effect of childhood trauma, family ties, relationship woes, mental, physical, and emotional abuse, and how healing is a difficult journey and how some people never heal whereas for others it takes a lifetime of struggle and introspection. The brothers’ past is revealed in a series of flashbacks throughout the narrative. Jules’s and Leon’s resilience make them shine, making the reader root for throughout their struggles of finding a meaning in life. Jules dominates the narrative but loses his shine in front of Leon as the story moves forward.  Realistic and utterly complex, the secondary characters inhabit a vivid, convincing private world of their own, truly coming alive in readers’ minds. As the story progresses, the reader realizes that the novel is much more than two boys’ struggles to get through their growing years: it’s a well-crafted mixture of exploration of childhood trauma, abusive relationships, and substance abuse with in-depth analysis of how with passing years, the nation’s moral fabric is gradually disintegrating, with new-age cultural shifts in the society on the rise. Lyrical, assured storytelling, fully fleshed-out characterization, and moving insights contribute to a story that’s guaranteed to make a lasting note in readers’ minds. Fans of literary fiction won’t want to miss this one.

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Violet Snow’s Review of The Brothers Silver Published in The Adirondack Review

Here is Violet Snow’s review of my new novel, The Brothers Silver, that was published a few weeks back in The Adirondack Review:

What are the forces that make us who we are? How do siblings grow up in the same environment but come out with different characteristics, different attitudes toward the world, and different fates? In his novel The Brothers Silver, Marc Jampole traces the paths two brothers take to adulthood, surviving, by the skin of their teeth, a suicidal mother and a sadistic father.
The brilliant younger brother, Leon, is the favorite of his parents. They still take out their frustrations on him, but the older brother, Jules, who is nearly as smart, is jealous of their undisguised preference for Leon. They both emerge from childhood with qualities of cynicism and self-indulgence. Although the guilt-wracked Jules is the point-of-view character, somehow he comes off as less sympathetic than his brother, who is determined to live in the moment, with a minimal sense of responsibility. He doesn’t seem a whole lot happier than the aimless Jules, who does whatever seems easiest in any situation, while berating himself for not doing more.
Interestingly, although they are both troubled and selfish, they do not become abusers like their parents. Jules is drawn irresistibly to unlikeable people, as if unconsciously trying to work out his relationship with his parents through interactions with psychotic friends and vicious lovers. He has a tortured intimacy with El, a woman who is as manipulative as his parents were; however, although he’s subject to fits of anger, he doesn’t treat her nearly as badly as his father treated his mother. He eventually gets wise and leaves her, winding up in a placid marriage, working a white-collar job, and fathering a daughter we don’t get to know, although she seems pretty okay. Check off a plus for Jules, for not victimizing his own kid, even though he himself was a victim.
Jampole experiments with the novel form, blowing it open through an array of styles and viewpoints that meet with varying success. Each of the main characters gets a chapter or two in the first person, but Jules owns the bulk of the narration, beginning with a childhood overview written in a poetic style scattered with rhymes.
I found myself preoccupied with the rhymes through much of the first chapter. I would hold my breath, waiting for the pairs to emerge:
She curses bitterly, a shrieking fanfare about Dad deserting us. The TV clicks on, and now its steady blare.
The rhyme of “fanfare” and “blare” is so gentle, I almost missed it, while I got a jolt of pleasure from recognizing the pattern.
The question is, do I want to be so distracted by the rhymes that it’s hard to concentrate on the story? It’s true that there’s a touch of exhilaration to Jampole’s rhymes, especially when they’re most unexpected. They pull the reader along on rippling sounds that combine in scintillating ways. But it’s jarring when one comes along that goes splat:
            “Are you out of your mind, of course it’s my business.”
            “I won’t take pressure, no duress.”
But I’ll accept that Jampole is playing with words while telling a story. He seems to be more interested in sound than in strictly reproducing voice, as long as the truth is embodied.
By the time I hit page 24, I’d stopped grasping for the rhymes and learned to ride them. Rhyming became a tide, washing in and out, carrying me along as Jules washed on the tide of his mother’s insanity, his father’s spasmodic neglect.
I applaud Jampole for his experimentation, even if I couldn’t always appreciate it.
In his sixties, Jules takes a road trip and looks up people he met on a youthful hitchhiking odyssey. In each encounter, he finds the wild idealism, rebellion, and/or hedonism of the ’70s has deteriorated into a conservative, exploitative lifestyle that Jules considers reprehensible. The tattoo artist now traffics in illegal immigrants. The frat-boy drug dealer is buying a seat in Congress.
The long chapter containing this journey appears to serve three purposes in the novel. Jules’s visits with past comrades bemoan the loss of idealism in the world that the U.S. has become, making a political and moral statement that seems to belong in a separate book. Between these many little morality tales, he meditates on his relationship with Leon and recalls his disastrous relationship with El. Presumably, the often hallucinatory memories, evoked by long nights on the road, have a therapeutic effect on Jules. They also fill in gaps in the story for the reader’s benefit.
I suppose the whole chapter is witness to the person he has become as a result of his upbringing, but the thread to the morality tales is tenuous. However, the start of the book and the second half are linked by Jampole’s return to the poetic style in the long final chapter.
The increasingly non-linear chronology requires a go-with-the-flow attitude on the part of the reader, to match the rambling poetic phrasing:
I imagine an ancient tree, as gnarled and knotted as my brain-constipating thoughts beside a rotting bridge of selves transforming into future selves, all wallowing in praise and blame, pleasure, pain, loss and gain, ups and downs, while El seems to slide from lotus leaf to lotus leaf down the shallow river to a waiting tiger, which she rides to a distant town.
To pass the time while driving alone, Jules makes lists: the differences between himself and Leon, the many women he’s had sex with, the ones he didn’t have sex with, ways one can change, ways to prepare for death, ways El drove him crazy — this last list confirming he really was dealing with his mother:
She falsified my meanings, turning yes into no, fast into slow. Her dramatic preening — her brawling, burning, Gothic mistrals — sounded like my mother’s shtick, if my mother had studied forties flicks.
Finally, Jules heads home to New York, his lists replaced by disturbing familial memories, in kaleidoscopic sequence. By the time he arrives, he has abandoned the past and come to rest in the present:
A muggy ocean breeze teases with its wheezes. It glides between the buildings, reminding me the seas are near. It fills the streets with sticky nuzzles and the puzzle of the clouds…
And we can all take a deep, cleansing breath. The Brothers Silver requires patience and persistence, but an adventurous reader will find much to entertain and provoke.
VIOLET SNOWis a freelance journalist whose articles have appeared in the New York Times “Disunion” blog, Civil War Times, American Ancestors, The Sun Magazine, Jewish Currents, and numerous other periodicals. Woodstock Times has published her reviews of books and films.

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Review in Jewish Chronicle: Former Pittsburgher’s Novel of Jewish Brothers Affected by Harrowing Childhood

Dionna Dash’s review of The Brothers Silver in the July 9, 2021 edition of The Jewish Chronicle:

The Brothers Silver,” a tale of two brothers growing up in the wake of intergenerational family trauma, is the haunting and realistic debut novel from public relations executive and poet Marc Jampole — a former Pittsburgher and past president of New Light Congregation. After 32 years in Squirrel Hill, Jampole moved back to his hometown in New York four years ago and now serves on the board of Jewish Currents, a national arts and politics publication.

The novel traces the brothers’ lives from the 1960s until present day as they attempt to escape a fate sealed generations before their births, painting a portrait of parental abuse and reverberating trauma.

Jampole’s background writing poetry and short stories is evident in this novel, as each of its 12 chapters is written in a different voice and from a different perspective. One chapter is formatted as a letter, one is almost entirely dialogue between the boys’ aunt and uncle, and another shows Jules’ emotions conversing among themselves. It often uses a poetic prose, including inventive rhyming phrases at the end of paragraphs that lend a rhythm to the story. The writing style demands a close, focused read from its audience, allowing for deep connection with the novel’s many themes, but rendering it inaccessible to the casual reader.

The Brothers Silver” relies on Jewish references, as well as those from other religions, to help its plot unfold. The inclusion of Jewish scripture against the backdrop of a trauma-ridden existence offers a compelling case study of religious disillusionment throughout the book. Integration of Jewish themes and practices in the chapters heighten the imagery of this novel and lend it a personal authenticity and a sort of sacredness, yet those themes remain subtle enough to not overpower the rest of the narrative: Jules struggles with feelings of being an outsider, which echoes much of the historical Jewish experience.

Jules and Leon each deal with their trauma differently, leading Leon to become a self-identified “deadbeat” who rejects modern society, while Jules enters a relationship with a woman named El that is all too reminiscent of his parents’ catastrophic marriage.

Jules maintains a constant fear of death following an unfulfilling life, and is forced to confront that fear at every turn, especially after the rest of his family has passed away. Despite this dread, or perhaps because of it, he seems to regenerate a new life every few decades, shedding people and personalities and cutting himself off from more and more family members. This ultimately culminates in a 150-page road trip to retrace the players from the time of his life when he was in his destructive relationship with El. Unfortunately, this chapter becomes repetitive at times, with many of the characters being near recreations of each other with similar life trajectories.

There is an ambiguity at the end of this novel reminiscent of short stories in which the reader is left with enough closure to feel satisfied, yet still wonders what might happen next. This book does not have one ultimate, final message, but rather traces the lives and deaths of the members of the Silver family through all their gritty, candid struggles, allowing readers to decide which perspectives to trust and what conclusions to draw.

This novel is ideal for those who appreciate poetic writing with a Jewish undercurrent and want a realistic look at what it means to survive with unresolved trauma. “The Brothers Silver” is not a light read, but rather one that requires its audience to introspect on their own lives, their own beliefs and their own personal ordeals. PJC

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Jennifer Johnson’s review of The Brothers Silver in Vox Populi

A Review of The Brothers Silver by Marc Jampole in the July 9, 2021 edition of  Vox Populi

Jennifer Johnson: A Haunting Novel of Childhood Trauma

The Brothers Silver takes a hard look at how children who endure growing up in dysfunctional families, suffer dire consequences and are left to a lifetime of personal struggles. In the case of The Brothers Silver, which debut novelist Marc Jampole admits has many autobiographical elements, two brothers, Jules and Leon Silver, are both full of promise. But at a young age, the boys must reinvent themselves and navigate the rough road ahead with a broken parental compass and a fractured sense of their own self-worth.

The story of their mother, Ethel, herself a childhood victim of sexual abuse, runs parallel to that of Sylvia Plath, another mother and victim of suicide. Ethel gives birth to her boys during the 1950s. She is trying to live the American housewife dream by marrying a man who will take care of her. Instead, she finds herself alone and struggling with clinical depression. Plath, too, was abandoned by her husband, the poet Ted Hughes. Hughes runs off with his lover, and Plath is left to care for her two young children in a small flat in London with no telephone.

Ethel becomes overwhelmed by a multitude of new responsibilities that spell out mental and physical exhaustion, which is, perhaps, apart from genetics, the catalyst for the onset of an otherwise latent, full-blown mental illness. She suddenly must work full time to make ends meet and put food on the table for her two boys, whom she truly seems to love. She gets fired from menial jobs. Without child support, a mother to help her, or modern-day conveniences, she ends up sprawled out on a couch in her basement at her wits’ end. Her older son Jules recognizes her need for help, but Ethel’s own unresolved guilt causes her to lash out at him:

“You didn’t do the dishes, ungrateful child. You did them to show me how bad a mom I am.”

Ironically, Ed, who beats her in front of the children, is the one with the power to put her into a succession of mental institutions where maybe he himself should be incarcerated. Plath claimed that Hughes beat her before she suffered a miscarriage, and she, too, spent time in mental institutions, dependent on anti-depressants and sleeping pills.

Ethel is prescribed hundreds of pills for anxiety, and, after overdosing on them numerous times–sadly witnessed by her sons—they end up killing her. The fact that she was prescribed so many of these addictive pills is testament to the system’s failure to treat her. Year later, Hughes actually argued in regard to Plath’s suicide that the pills she was taking were known to prompt suicidal feelings.

Just like Plath, Ethel kept a diary. But Plath, unlike Ethel, was able to go to college and fulfill her dreams of becoming a published writer. Ethel’s diary represents perhaps the only peek into the aspirations of a woman who never got to live her dreams. One criticism of The Brothers Silver is that Ethel is barely heard from—she gets to narrate one chapter that is little more than a page in length. I yearned to hear more from her and less from her sadistic husband. Ed is the one who is a danger to the children. In one scene, he purposely holds the toddler Jules under water:

Without fright, I bend my legs to spring up at the last moment before the water crowns, but my father’s strapping-strong arm holds me down. A wall of cold water crushes me like one hollow-sounding, stinging slap at my whole body, head to toe…My flapping mouth swallows part of the flow and I start to blow out water and cry.

After Ethel’s death, the novel continues to trace the lives of the brothers into adulthood. We witness how loss manifests itself in the men Jules and Leon eventually become. Although their inner lives are more similar than they suspect, their outer lives become increasingly different. Jules ultimately decides to leave an aimless life behind and head… “straight to Straightsville after shedding all my freight—events, people, feelings,” settling for a steady job, a wife and child, and a home in the suburbs. Leon revels in being a drug-dependent deadbeat forever, no matter what encouragement he received from others to use his academic and musical talents. He remains single and promiscuous, jumps from job to job, and chooses to live in a teepee in the middle of nowhere. His attitude:

I am the god of the here and now. Follow me. I never think about the future. I never think about the past…

Is Leon’s fall from a ladder later in the novel an accident or not? Sylvia Plath’s younger son, Nicholas Hughes, commits suicide. He was a passionate professor of fisheries and ocean science who never married. Did these highly capable younger sons who grew up with such similar family dynamics—one actual, one fictional—meet the same fate for the same reasons? Plath’s older daughter, Frieda Hughes, still alive today, is an accomplished children’s book writer, poet, and artist. Jules remains alive at the end of The Brothers Silver, too, having made a comfortable life for himself despite his continual search for solace. Did they survive because they were the first-born? “I felt my parents were stolen,” Frieda Hughes once said.

The Brothers Silver is a haunting novel about the human survival instinct that employs both rhythmic prose and poetry to move the story along.

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