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Improvement

A Novel

List Price: $26.00

November 14, 2017 | Hardcover | 5.5 x 8.25, 256 pages | ISBN 9781619029606
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“Like Grace Paley and Lucia Berlin, she’s a master of taking a story past its easiest meaning; like [Alice] Munro, a master of the compression and dilation of time… [Silber] has an American voice: silvery, within arm’s length of old cadences, but also limber, thieving, marked by occasional raids on slang and jargon, at ease both high and low, funny, tenderhearted, sharp. It gives her the rare ability to reach the deepest places in the plainest ways.” —Washington Post

One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in Harlem, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected implications for the world around them.

Reyna knows her relationship with Boyd isn’t perfect, yet she sees him through a three-month stint at Riker’s Island, their bond growing tighter. Kiki, now settled in the East Village after a youth that took her to Turkey and other far-off places—and loves—around the world, admires her niece’s spirit but worries that motherhood to four-year-old Oliver might complicate a difficult situation. Little does she know that Boyd is pulling Reyna into a smuggling scheme, across state lines, violating his probation. When Reyna takes a step back, her small act of resistance sets into motion a tapestry of events that affect the lives of loved ones and strangers around them.

A novel that examines conviction, connection, repayment, and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki’s beloved Turkish rugs, as colorful as the tattoos decorating Reyna’s body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising and unexpected as the lives all around us. The Boston Globe said “No other writer can make a few small decisions ripple across the globe, and across time, with more subtlety and power,” and Improvement is Silber’s most shining achievement.

JOAN SILBER is the author of the story collection Fools, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her first novel, Household Words, won the PEN/Hemingway Award. She has published five other books of fiction, including Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories, a finalist for the National Book Award and the Story Prize. She’s been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, and her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Agni, Ploughshares, Boulevard, and Epoch, among others. Joan teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Learn more about joansilber.net.

Praise

“[I]t feels vital to love Silber’s work, which has been too little loved, too little mentioned, beyond a small readership that seems to be composed mostly of other writers. Silber is 72, and with Improvement has written at least three truly great books. Now is the moment to appreciate that she is here, in our midst: our country’s own Alice Munro. Silber’s great theme as a writer is the way in which humans are separated from their intentions, by desires, ideas, time… Like Grace Paley and Lucia Berlin, she’s a master of talking a story past its easiest meaning; like Munro, a master of the compression and dilation of time, what time and nothing else can reveal to people about themselves. She has an American voice: silvery, within arm’s length of old cadences, but also limber, thieving, marked by occasional raids on slang and jargon, at ease both high and low, funny, tenderhearted, sharp. It gives her the rare ability to reach the deepest places in the plainest ways.” —Washington Post

“There’s always room for Joan Silber’s Improvement.” —Vanity Fair

“In Silber’s artfully structured new novel, the stories of a multitude of characters ricochet in cunning ways, crossing generations and continents . . . [An] intriguing contemporary chronicle.” —BBC Culture

“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.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Silber weaves together character studies that examine love, money (and how to get it,) and the ripple effects of choices made. Silber’s decision to write events of great magnitude from everyday points of view lends realism and universality to her story. Fans of character-driven, literary fiction should be on the lookout for Improvement.” —Booklist

“The subtle ripple effects of individual choices and actions are eloquently portrayed through Silber’s penetrating eye in this elegant and thought-provoking novel.” —Library Journal

“The prose serenely glides over irreversible, defining moments and how differently characters deal with the curveballs life throws at them . . . Improvement is a meditation on the space of time and distance and certain defining events change people and propel them to re-calibrate their priorities in life . . . The prose eloquently evinces human emotions—love and heartbreak, regret and loss, guilt and redemption . . . Improvement reads like fragmented character studies of a disparate group of people, intricately woven together by chance and fate. Exquisitely woven, this is a rich tapestry of human conditions.” —Chicago Review of Books

“A novel featuring cigarette smuggling, single parenting, prison, and rug collectors, the beginning of which was published in Tin House and appears in Best American Short Stories. In a starred review, Kirkus says ‘There is something so refreshing and genuine about this book.'” —The Millions

“We love a good butterfly effect scenario, and Improvement delivers tenfold.” —HelloGiggles

“I love all of Joan Silber’s work for her mastery of character, her ferocious and searching compassion, and her elegant lines that make the mind hum for hours. Improvement is so crisp and resonant a novel that it made me forget the chaos of life around me; a feat for which I’m truly grateful.” ―Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies

“Joan Silber is America’s own Alice Munro. The psychological acuity, the ambition, the breadth of time and space: it’s all there in Improvement, which demonstrates with great poignancy how our small decisions ramify out and touch the lives of people we don’t even know. This book is deep and true and riveting.” ―Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You

“In Improvement, Joan Silber’s skillful new novel, characters suffer from failed romances, moves to distant shores, and death, yet somehow, they manage to find each other in the end, and reconnect in deeply meaningful and satisfying ways. Silber is not only a gorgeous and masterful writer, she is also a wise and knowing one.” ―Lily Tuck, author of The Double Life of Liliane

“More than any writer I know, Joan Silber’s fiction makes sense of the randomness of our connections while honoring the essential mystery that drives our desires. Her sentences are so finely tuned that they miraculously convey her characters’ everyday foibles and ecstatic recognitions at the very same time. Improvement is a searching and profound novel by one of our masters.” ―Marisa Silver, author of Little Nothing and Mary Coin

“Subtle, sexy, brilliant in its unexpected connections and soulful generosity, this is an intensely satisfying novel.” ―Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and Archangel

“A new book by Joan Silber is a grand event in American literature. Silber has been creating a unique body of work that, in its immense authority and vision, puts her in the company of Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant. Improvement is a novel that explores love and ambition and the way it entangles, wounds, transforms vibrant characters across New York City, Virginia, Turkey, and Germany. This is a magnificent work about the complexity of human connection, full of remarkable insight and compassion.” ―Karen E. Bender, author of Refund, a finalist for the National Book Award

Improvement is a wide-ranging novel told in stories that connect disparate people through time and place to one tragic accident. Kiki, a free-spirited young adult of the 1970s turned wise woman, is the novel’s lodestar. Silber masterfully pulls together the threads of lives in places as remote as rural Turkey and as common and close as New York City like a finely made Persian rug.” —Arsen Kashkashian, Boulder Book Store (Boulder, CO)

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