Silverthorne (The Flatlands, 2014, etc.) commemorates his mother’s life by starkly depicting the abuse and addictions she suffered as well as the peace she ultimately found.
How much of Silverthorne’s work is an accurate portrayal of his mother’s life and how much is imaginative envisioning is never clarified in what may, therefore, be a fusion of fiction and biography. Darla, the narrator of her life story—although she only begins speaking in the first person in the third chapter, a shift from the third person that is unclearly artful or incidental—lies in the hospital in a “pain killer-induced haze” recalling the events of her life. She was recently stabbed by a homeless man for whom she had bought food—the first instance of Darla’s sacrificial kindness described in the narrative. The stabbing is the culmination of a lifetime of hardship, beginning with a “poor, harsh” Michigan-based childhood haunted by parental absence and alcoholism and, much more disturbingly, a horrifying incident of sexual violence. It is not the only such act to be depicted, and Darla is not the only victim in her story. Those she encounters, during both her heroin-addicted young adulthood and her subsequent career working at a treatment center, are often profoundly mistreated. Vividly characterized in all his or her idiosyncrasy, each is “another one of the guys that society simply wished didn’t exist.” Silverthorne imbues his work with striking detail; even characters who appear briefly to tell their somber stories are memorable. Part of that quality of being unforgettable, however, derives from the graphic reminiscences of characters’ victimizations, which often seem gratuitous. Not all of the gory details are needed. Their prevalence also dilutes the book’s larger plot, as the sequence of Darla’s life cedes focus to unconnected scenes introducing new characters. If the work becomes episodic during these events, it is nonetheless creditable for its attention to those with mental illnesses and addictions.
A vivid account of misfortune that may elicit simultaneous admiration and squeamishness.