Marisa Silver plumbs the murky depths of adolescence.
A Contrary review by Shaindel Beers

I first came across Marisa Silver’s The God of War as a short fiction piece in The New Yorker and was spellbound. I stood in front of my fiction-writing students, each with his or her copy of various issues of The New Yorker, and didn’t want the story to end. When we went around the room, describing the stories we’d just read and each reading our favorite paragraph, I had a catch in my throat as I read my favorite passage—when Ares, the main character, has a recurring nightmare of dropping his baby brother:

He went down like a medicine ball. I heard the thud of his head hit the concrete before he rolled lazily off the lip of the island and onto the cracked pavement. He came to rest beside the wheels of the car. Next, the most terrifying thing happened: nothing. Malcolm didn’t move. He didn’t make a sound. It was as if someone had pressed the pause button on the universe and everything stood still. I couldn’t hear the cars passing on the highway or the sounds of the construction equipment going full tilt behind the convenience store. All I could hear was the inside of my head, which sounded like water rushing through a wide pipe. 

Throughout Silver’s novel, Ares’ life hinges on this moment. He sees himself as a boy in need of redemption and spends each second of his life awaiting retribution for what he has done to his brother. 

Silver writes of the murky depths of adolescence with a verisimilitude beyond that of any writer I can think of, barring, perhaps, Sherman Alexie. There is no false innocence in her first-person narrator and no nostalgia for what it is like to be twelve. Ares’ struggle to navigate the world around him as he grows up will remind readers of what it was like to be alternately seduced into compliance and rebellion by our conflicting needs to be loved and to be independent.

The God of War is a fast, nearly flawless read, and I am sure, though I devoured the novel in two days, that the characters will be with me for years to come.    

Shaindel Beers is the poetry editor of Contrary.

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The God of War

Marisa Silver

2008, Simon & Schuster

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