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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


Named 1 of 50 Notable Works of Fiction in 2017 by The Washington Post
Named 1 of 10 Top Fiction Titles of 2017 by the Wall Street Journal
Newsday Best Book of 2017
Kirkus Best Book of 2017
New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice

“Without fuss or flourishes, Joan Silber weaves a remarkably patterned tapestry connecting strangers from around the world to a central tragic car accident. The writing here is funny and down-to-earth, the characters are recognizably fallible, and the message is quietly profound: We are not ever really alone, however lonely we feel.” —The Wall Street Journal, 1 of 10 top fiction titles of 2017

“Some books make evangelists of critics, and Silber’s eighth book is one of them. Written with minimalist mastery and maximum feeling, the novel circles a number of characters linked—sometimes closely, sometimes not—to Reyna, a tattooed single mom in New York. What do we want out of life? How do we hold on to love? How do we get over it? Silber, a writer’s writer who deserves a wider audience, explores big questions with subtlety, humor, and compassion. ‘Improvement is an everyday masterpiece,’ writes reviewer Tom Beer.” —Newsday, Best Books of 2017

“With consummate skill, Silber reveals surprising connections between characters in contemporary New York and 1970s Turkey.” —The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

“The much celebrated Silber creates yet another artfully structured new novel, in which stories of a multitude of characters ricochet in cunning ways, crossing generations and continents . . . [An] intriguing contemporary chronicle.” —BBC Culture, 1 of the 10 Best Books of 2017

“[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

“This is a novel of richness and wisdom and huge pleasure. Silber knows, and reveals, how close we live to the abyss, but she also revels in joy, particularly the joy that comes from intimate relationships . . . [A] perfectly balanced mix of celebration and wryness.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Both the plot and the prose maintain an absorbing momentum.” —The New Yorker

“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 gorgeous though damaged Turkish rug that adorns the dust jacket of Joan Silber’s Improvement is a fitting symbol for this exceptional novel, and not just because one of its subplots concerns carpet dealing. Ms. Silber is a weaver of disparate lives . . . With Improvement she has created her most vibrant tapestry of what she wryly calls ‘the ever-expanding joke of human trouble’ . . . Improvement is forthright and funny about the blinkered muddle humankind makes for itself. Yet its vibrating web of interconnection is hopeful and beautiful.” —The Wall Street 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

“This gorgeously written novel, funny and full of heart, follows several characters in the life of Reyna, a tattooed single mom with a rambunctious son, a boyfriend in Rikers, and a wise aunt who has seen it all. Each chapter tells a story. I loved every one of them.” —The Seattle Times, Mary Ann Gwinn’s favorite books of 2017

“If your must-read this month is a love-and-loss story seasoned with single motherhood and smuggling schemes, National Book Award finalist Joan Silber’s Improvement hits the sexy sweet spot from page one.” —Elle Magazine

“My revelation of the year was the writing of Joan Silber . . . I was immediately captivated by her fictional method, a cross between the novel and linked stories, in which a minor character in one chapter will become a major figure in another. This connect-the-dots narrative structure makes possible wide leaps over time and space, while still offering that sense of connection and emotional depth that makes the best fiction so satisfying.” —Ruth Franklin, The Paris Review, Favorite Books of 2017

“Joan Silber’s quietly brilliant novel Improvement weaves an intricate, zigzagging pattern out of the lives of a dozen people, and six well-chosen narrators provide the voices . . . The multiplicity of voices in this production gives a wonderful aural dimension to the weave of inadvertently interlocked lives.” —The Washington Post, Best New Audio Books of December

“Her work generates tension and momentum from the ebbs and flows of individual lives, but also from the unexpected and sometimes unexplained links between them . . . Like the Turkish carpet that drives much of the book’s action, Improvement repeats shapes and motifs, layering them in an intricate pattern that builds into something far more complex than the sum of its parts . . . Her technique of shifting viewpoints from one chapter to the next highlights not only the way a single dramatic event can ripple outward into ever-expanding circles, but also how a moment that is incidental for one person can be decisive for another . . . Part of Silber’s gift is knowing which stories not to tell. Her prose is spare, devoid of flourishes and extraneous information . . . It is both tragic and infuriating that a writer [like Joan] as innovative, humane, and wise is not read more widely.” —Ruth Franklin, The New York 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

“Silber’s concise and lyrical writing is at its best in her latest novel, Improvement.” —Washington Life

“The centrifugal momentum of Silber’s tales pushes Improvement away from conventional resolutions, thus avoiding the tidy endings of tragedy and comedy. While these characters enjoy no generic happy ending (a contrivance that would feel false in a novel of such finely observed realism), neither are they crushed beneath the wheel of an annihilating Fortune. They make difficult decisions and learn to live with the consequences, joy and bitterness mixed equally. Ultimate success may be unreachable and undefinable, but with honest self-assessment and maybe a little luck, improvement remains possible.” —

“Silber’s extraordinary new novel, with a single mother and her eccentric aunt at its center, is kaleidoscopic as it spans decades and stretches from New York to Berlin and Turkey. Her wildly different characters intersect, and as she subtly details the quotidian stuff of life, she raises questions about fate and chance, power and redemption, and, finally, the universal need for connection.” —The National Book Review

“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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