IMPROVEMENT by Joan Silber
Kirkus Star


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Love and profit, fear and orneriness, intention and accident…all present and accounted for in this study of why our lives turn out the way they do.

“Everyone knows this can happen. People travel and they find places they like so much they think they’ve risen to their best selves just by being there.” So begins this kaleidoscopic story cycle, stretching from 1970 to the present, from Rikers Island and Richmond, Virginia, to Sultanahmet, Turkey, and Berlin. With a group of characters woven together by a butterfly-effect chain of decisions, accidents, and consequences, Silber (Fools, 2013, etc.) examines the dynamics of relationships across races and cultures, the ramifications of smuggling both American cigarettes and European antiquities, the need to find and honor family, and the intentions to sell a Turkish rug, to start one’s own eyebrow-grooming business, to somehow make right things that have gone very wrong. Practically every page contains some insight you want to linger over. For example, a truck driver who has just been in a very bad wreck considers his past brushes with death: “Once when he took a beautiful drunken walk across a frozen pond and midway the ice cracked and broke. Once when he was in a car with a woman who drove them off the road into a gully. Once when he was in a fight with a guy who was crazier than he seemed. He’d had a good time when he was young, but in certain respects youth was overrated.” Or, a young single mother considering her boyfriend’s release from Rikers: “Jail doesn’t always change people in good ways, but in Boyd’s case it made him quieter and less apt to throw his weight around.”

There is something so refreshing and genuine about this book, coming partly from the bumpy weave of its unpredictable story and partly from its sharply turned yet refreshingly unmannered prose. A winner.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-61902-960-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2017


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