Tag Archives: Sue William Silverman

Sue William Silverman

Sue Silverman’s poetry collection is Hieroglyphics in Neon (Orchises Press). Her second poetry collection, If the Girl Never Learns, is looking for a home. She is also the author of four other books: The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew was a finalist in Foreword Reviews 2014 IndieFab Book of the Year Award; Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You won the AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction; and Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction is also a Lifetime TV original movie. Her craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir. She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

 

If the Girl Turns the World Upside-Down

walking on her hands
exploring Blackbeard’s Castle,
one palm in front
of the other –
hair dusting
fever grass and the cracked
limestone floor –
Madras shorts sliding
up her thighs, seductive,
because did he, or she, really
sink beneath
the waves?

Later, the girl cruises
Route 17 in her doubloon-
colored, Rangoon-red-leathered
Plymouth, past disaffected
Jersey boys loitering corners,
a bottle of underage
Scotch between her legs.
Driving straight but drunk and
in reverse, for all
she knows, dashboard lit,
circling asphalt
like it’s a black scarf,
a sun-warmed boa,
constricting its grip.

She has no place to sleep,
so she won’t, preoccupied
as she is, with seaworms, salt
air, cannon smoke, warped
masts, frayed
sails – just another night
in the break-down
lane of mangled
axels, tire rims,
wheel covers, discarded
St. Christopher medals,
and bottle-tops – souvenirs
of mishaps, accidents,
and Acts of God
knows what.
She has
the only map to this
hoard of pirate loot.
No, that’s wrong. She is
the map.

Sue William Silverman

Sue William Silverman book coverThe Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as A White Anglo-Saxon Jew
by Sue William Silverman
Press: University of Nebraska Press
Date: March, 2014
Pages: 248
ISBN: 978-0-8032-6485-4
Reviewed by: Kelly O’Toole

 

Sue William Silverman’s The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew is a collection of thematically linked essays, mini-memoirs that retell myriad events in Silverman’s life that reflect her struggles with identity, primarily with being a Jewish female in White Anglo-Saxon, Christian America.

She opens with a letter to the reader, describing herself as a gefilte fish, “Swimming Upstream with Nary a Fin. . .a Sorrowful, Utterly Lost and Sad Little Gefilte, far from her Glass Jar.” She appeals to the reader directly, pleading, “Turn these Pages. Understand.” What follows is Silverman’s journey to “Knowledge, Identity, Enlightenment,” the stories of swimming upstream in the sea of American culture, trying to reach herself and trying to reach home.

The title essay describes how a teenage Sue studied with a magnifying glass a Life magazine photo of Pat Boone, his wife and their four daughters riding a tandem bicycle. “I fantasized living inside this black-and-white print, unreachable,” she writes. “This immaculate universe was safe, far away from my father’s all-too-real hands, hands that hurt me at night.”

Silverman has written about her father’s hands hurting her at night in her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You. Now she confides how she found safety and refuge in Pat Boone’s WASP-y image, his “crisp, clean unchanging certainty.” By replacing her Jewish father in her mind with Pat Boone, she was saved.

Pat Boone isn’t her only refuge. In “The Wandering Jew,” Silverman describes her fascination with a local tramp while living on St. Thomas as a girl. She follows him to his shantytown, believing he is safe, while her father is not. When she watches Charlie Chaplin films in which his characters save young women, she wishes to be those women. She finds safety in objects: handkerchiefs, garnet rosary beads, marbles (“Concerning Cardboard Ghosts, Rosaries, and the Thingness of Things”)

The best memoirs map an author’s journey of self-discovery, making readers feel they are traveling alongside the author, exploring her psyche with her, witnessing her activities and emotions. By the end of the best memoirs, readers are transformed, having embarked on their own journeys to self-discovery. That is certainly true of The Pat Boone Fan Club. The more we learn about Silverman’s identity confusion, the more we question our own identities; the more we see her finding answers to those questions, the more we want to find answers to our own questions.

Many readers will relate to “The Endless Possibilities of Youth,” in which Silverman reflects on her feelings of alienation as a teenager. She fantasizes that if only she looked less Jewish, the boy she’s smitten with will reciprocate her feelings. And sadly, far too many people have felt betrayed by their very bodies and later, by the very physicians entrusted to treat their ailing bodies, as Silverman did when she felt abdominal pains that evolved into severe intestinal distress when treated with antibiotics (“See the Difference”).

The book’s cover image is a teal phonograph needle on a 45 RPM vinyl record. A fitting image, since The Pat Boone Fan Club reads very much like a great rock ‘n’ roll record. Our singer, Ms. Silverman, impresses with the range of her voice. Sometimes she writes in first person, sometimes second. She experiments with form, as with the mosaic of “Galveston Island Breakdown”, the screenplay of “I Was a Prisoner on the Satellite of Love” and the comic book-style narrative of “An Argument for the Existence of Free Will and/or Pat Boone’s Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Also like a great album, its various “tracks” connect thematically, but it never feels repetitious. Silverman varies the beat with metaphor, dark comedy, irony and other literary devices. Her choice of details brings her descriptions to life. And her poetic language gives her prose musicality.

The Pat Boone Fan Club is a rollicking road-trip of a book. It’s a trip worth taking, again and again.

 ––––––––

Kelly O’Toole is a Community Columnist for the Grand Haven Tribune in Grand Haven, Michigan. She is working on a memoir.