In Marisa Silver’s book, The Mysteries, she tackles the conundrum of relationships—of family, of friends, of children, of adults. And therein lies the mystery of the title.
Silver introduces the two primary characters, both seven years old—Miggy (Margaret Ann) Brenneman, and Ellen Gallagher—who are as totally different as two characters can be. Miggy is bossy; she’s the leader of the pack, and when she wants something, she gets it, regardless of Ellen’s wants. Ellen, on the other hand, seems perfectly content to follow Miggy’s lead.
As Silver unwraps the story, she introduces the parents—known to each other but not close. Miggy’s parents, Jean and Julian Brenneman, are hippies at heart. Julian inherited his father’s hardware business—a failing entity, while Jean is primarily a stay-at-home mom who operates a small dance studio where she teaches ballet. Miggy’s relationship with her mother is frayed. Jean is not a strong mother and does not know how to deal with her aggressive daughter, while Julian is close to Miggy, mostly because he gives in to her wishes on a regular basis.
Miggy is a loner and a troublemaker until she meets Ellen, who desperately needs the company of another child her age. They pair up at the ballet studio and become inseparable.
Ellen’s parents, Celeste and William Gallagher, are more settled in their ways. Ellen is the product of a one-night stand before the marriage, but William accepts her as his own, even after his own child, Louie, is born. Ellen’s relationship with her mother is the opposite of Miggy’s; Ellen and Celeste are close and loving.
This story is not a mystery as we all expect, but a mystery of how people react to one another. Silver’s approach to these characters is dynamic not in the relationship between the families as much as the relationships within the families.
The first half of the book is primarily narrative, background on each character, and how their histories developed them into the characters they are in the story.
It isn’t until the middle of the book that an event occurs that catapults the families into one another’s paths. The relationships within each family begin to shred until it seems there is no opportunity for any, much less all, of them to recover.
While the story is thin of plot, the underlying theme of the story—how tragedy affects each of us—rises to the top to be considered in its entirety.
Silver’s writing is strong—probably her strongest skill. Her vocabulary is varied and robust; she chooses words carefully, designed to color the settings, the characters, and, yes, the plot.
The Mysteries is character driven, and the reader will get wrapped up in each character’s purpose and the story’s theme. A definite keeper.