A sequence of six linked stories explores the lives of those who risk something for their ideals, which is not the same as, and produces quite different results from, risking something for one's beliefs.
Silber (The Size of the World, 2008, etc.) teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. She has won a PEN/Hemingway Award and has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize and the National Book Award. The title story begins with telegraphic directness: “A lot of people thought anarchists were fools.” Silber makes much of the difference between what it means to be a fool and being merely foolish. The former is so much worse. In “Fools,” a merry band of political idealists lives a bohemian life in New York in the ’20s. In the background looms the incarceration and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. The characters make love, marry, cheat on their spouses and scatter. The next story, “Hanging Fruit,” follows Anthony—the son of one who left penury for profit, then regressed back into poverty. “Two Opinions” follows Louise, the daughter of an anarchist, in jail as a conscientious objector. The legacy of her father’s radical politics costs her the life she imagines she wants, but she is merely mistaken and learns to provide for herself in novel ways, finding satisfactions she couldn’t have dreamed of, including the possibility that satisfaction is overrated. “Better” is the weakest in this worthwhile collection. Its connection to the others is tenuous. “Going Too Far” dramatizes a clash between the spiritual and the practical. It and the final story, “Buying and Selling,” are more completely realized.
A thought-provoking collection; “Buying and Selling” is particularly strong.