Many writers have tried and failed at writing a story like this one. Many writers haven’t even dared to try such. But only one, in my personal opinion, has succeeded in such: Joan Silber. Improvement, Silber’s newest release, is real. And that’s the best way to put it.
It chronicles instances and how that correlates to generations, relationships, friends, fate, and what could have been. There is a tragedy. There is love. And there is lust. And the web of people and how they connect don’t really come into view until the story is done.
And it, unlike so many other stories, is one with realistic characters and expectations. There’s this on-going theme of settling and contentment, where characters take the best options they can get, not the fairytales ones so few of us are offered in the real world, they settle or except what their life is while still dreaming of the life they want. For so many books and tales are about characters with fearlessness, too brave for the world we live in, they dive in and never look back. Now, who really can do that? We have anxieties and worries, concerns and financial responsibilities, we have lives that can’t be left to taste the fine wines in France or fresh cheese in Italy, we can’t abandon our friends and families on the spur of a notice, and we can’t always get the happy-ever-after written in the movies. We can get the simple things and you can take the best option. That’s what I mean when I say that this book is real.
The characters are real. The situations are real. Their thoughts and dreams are real. This book is one of the most real stories I’ve read in a long time. I can’t say that it’s a happily ever after or that it’s a tragedy, it’s somewhere in between, where the rest of us live.
With all of that being said, Improvement is the first book of Silber’s I have picked up and I’m not sure whether or not it will be the last. Improvement is a stand alone in my opinion, nothing could really be just like it, so perhaps I’ll daunt the pages of her numerous other novels, or perhaps not.
But if you are interested in picking up this author, you could also look into the books, Fools, The Size of the World, Ideas of Heaven, The Art of Time in Fiction, Household Words, Lucky Us, In My Other Life, and In The City. I think it’s quite clear from this impressive publication list that Silber has been around the industry for quite awhile and learned what she was doing before tempting the story of Improvement.
And if you also don’t believe what I am saying about the novel, maybe try listening to some actual credentialed beings. Improvement not only won The National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction but also the PEN/Faulkner award. And as prestigious as all of that is, it is not daunting. Improvement is an easy, if not quick book, to get into and to get through. I highly recommend this book to readers out there.