In her new novel, Little Nothing, Marisa Silver explores how changes to our physical bodies can impact circumstances, identities, and even memories. The book opens with the birth of Pavla to elderly parents so desperate for a child that they contracted the help of a witch to conceive. Born a dwarf, Pavla gradually earns the respect and love of her parents and neighbors. As a young teen, Pavla’s parents begin to worry about her future prospects and take her to an unscrupulous doctor that stretches her to “normal” size.
Pavla’s torture on the doctor’s stretching device is the first of many transformations in Little Nothing. Afterward, Pavla is of normal proportions, but she is no longer herself. She is a “wolf girl” with eerie yellow eyes, a snout, and a hairy face. Abandoned by her family, Pavla travels with the doctor and his assistant Danilo as a carnival attraction. After she is attacked, Pavla leaves the carnival and her growing romance with Danilo. The only one who recognizes (and loves) Pavla in all of her forms, Danilo spends much of the rest of the novel searching for her.
Silver relies on the dreamlike nature of fairy tales – including the use of fables, repetition, and vivid descriptions – to flesh out Pavla’s strange story. As she follows Pavla’s journey from a dwarf to wolf girl to wolf and finally to a prisoner who does not know her name, she explores the complexity of time, memory, and coincidence. The novel closes with the brief reunion of Danilo and Pavla and a final, ambiguous transformation. In all, I found Little Nothing to be a sometimes confusing, but haunting and beautiful book.
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby-Hall
Rating: Highly Recommend