Former Pittsburgher’s novel of Jewish brothers affected by harrowing childhood
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Former Pittsburgher’s novel of Jewish brothers affected by harrowing childhood

'The Brothers Silver' is not a light read, but offers opportunities for introspection

Book cover
Book cover

“The Brothers Silver” by Marc Jampole (‎ Owl Canyon Press, June 15, 2021)

“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.

In Jampole’s novel — which focuses a realistic lens on dark themes like drug use, domestic abuse, mental illness and suicidal ideation — Jules and Leon Silver are raised by their suicidal mother and lecherous father, hopping between New York City and Chicago. The brothers become accustomed to their mother’s numerous attempts to take her own life and their father’s distance and neglect, eventually leading to Leon’s drug addiction and Jules’ entanglement in a manipulative relationship.

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

Dionna Dash is a writer living in Pittsburgh.

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