LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD. “Emotionally, it’s astounding. ‘Linked’ doesn’t begin to describe the complex web Silber has woven. . . . Beautiful, intricate and wise.”—New York Times Book Review When is it wise to be a fool for something? What makes people want to be better than they are? From New York to India to Paris, from the Catholic Worker movement to Occupy Wall Street, the characters in Joan Silber’s dazzling new story cycle ...
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD. “Emotionally, it’s astounding. ‘Linked’ doesn’t begin to describe the complex web Silber has woven. . . . Beautiful, intricate and wise.”—New York Times Book Review
When is it wise to be a fool for something? What makes people want to be better than they are? From New York to India to Paris, from the Catholic Worker movement to Occupy Wall Street, the characters in Joan Silber’s dazzling new story cycle tackle this question head-on.
Vera, the shy, anarchist daughter of missionary parents, leaves her family for love and activism in New York. A generation later, her own doubting daughter insists on the truth of being of two minds, even in marriage. The adulterous son of a Florida hotel owner steals money from his family and departs for Paris, where he takes up with a young woman and finds himself outsmarted in turn. Fools ponders the circle of winners and losers, dupers and duped, and the price we pay for our beliefs.Fools is a luminous, intelligent, and rewarding work of fiction from the author for whom 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."
The New York Times Book Review
- Natalie Bakopoulos
…a moving collection of six linked stories—though "linked" doesn't begin to describe the complex web Silber has woven. Structurally, the intricacy is skillful; emotionally, it's astounding. One of the many pleasures here is understanding how the stories intersect and how each, despite the large swaths of time encompassed, reveals only versions of lives. The interconnectedness creates a larger narrative, so we can imagine countless other versions still unrevealed…[Fools is a] beautiful, intricate and wise collection…
This tightly constructed collection from Silber (Ideas of Heaven) shows her talents at their finest. The stories pivot nimbly from the foibles of young anarchists in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century, in “Fools,” to a spoiled young man’s comeuppance in Paris in the early ’60s, to a nonprofit development worker’s attempt to solicit money from a potential donor in the present. In “Two Opinions,” Louise, the young married daughter of the narrator from “Fools,” stays in New York when her husband goes to Japan for work. Rather than despair at what becomes an extended separation, Louise creates her own happiness. Self-discovery many years too late is a recurring theme. In “Going Too Far,” middle-aged Gerard doesn’t realize until after 9/11 that his heart still belongs to his ex-wife, now a convert to Islam eager to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. And in “Better,” Marcus, reeling from a breakup with his boyfriend, finds possibilities for picking himself back up, in a memoir written by one of the anarchists from “Fools.” Though they make bad choices and exhibit a multitude of faults, Silber’s characters display wonderfully lifelike vulnerability and complexity. Agent: Geri Thoma, Marson Thoma. (May)
“Joan Silber is one of the wisest, finest, most capacious observers of the human condition writing now. We should all be as heartbreakingly foolish and beautiful as the characters in this collection. Silber understands them inside out, and brings them close to us, as no one else can.”
“Joan Silber's stories are like compressed novels. They are interlocking tales that fill in the history of revolutionary politics in the twentieth century.”
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.
“Astonishing for its range,for its sweeping sense of time and place, and most especially for its deep insight into the way small choices can circle out to shape lives, and even human history.This is a beautiful book and an important literary achievement.”
“I loved Fools. The stories always surprised me, with the narratives unfolding as if in real time, and then turning unexpected in so many ways, twisting into stories that felt like remembered history, but with such added emotion that I thought about the characters for several days afterward as if they were here in my house.”
“Joan Silber’s stories charm us. And amuse us. And engage us. And move us. And even enlighten us. Fools embraces us all.”
“A wonderfully winning exploration of impetuousness in all of its appalling and appealing forms.”
“Joan Silber is one of the wisest, finest, most capacious observers of the human condition writing now.”
“A unique and fascinating collection. . . . The collective vision this provokes is what makes the book intellectually satisfying, the separate lives it convincingly displays are what move the heart.”
“Great fiction. . . . It is impossible not to be enthralled.”
“Dazzling . . . written in elegant prose and with clairvoyant wisdom.”
“Silber deftly constructs whole, fully realized lives in just a few pages, and her use of first-person narratives gives these stories an intimate, confessional feeling, as if you’ve struck up a conversation with a particularly talkative stranger.”
Wall Street Journal
“Excellent . . . the pleasure of Ms. Silber’s overlapping tales is that in all of them characters do something to surprise you.”
The Oprah Magazine O
“So well made and pleasurable . . . [Silber]
Joan Silber is the author of six previous works of fiction. Among many awards and honors, she has won a PEN/Hemingway Award and has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.
Joan Slber is the author of four other books of fiction -- Lucky Us, In My Other Life, In the City, and Household Words, winner of a PEN/Hemingway Award. Her work appears in the current O. Henry Prize Stories and The Pushcart Prize, and in Norton's The Story Behind the Story: 26 Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Paris Review, and other magazines. She's received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Silber lives in New York City and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and has taught in the Warren Wilson College M.F.A. Program. She is currently at work on a novel about travel, and is also writing a book on time in fiction for Graywolf's Craft of Fiction series.
Silber says that the first story in Ideas of Heaven grew out of an incident someone told her about a dance coach humiliating his female student. The coach's repeated question, "How much do you want it?" suggested, for Silber, the lure of a higher purpose and the religious impulse sometimes embedded in odd places. The story's villain became the protagonist of the next story, and Silber saw that what she really wanted to write about was sex and religion -- "forms of dedication, forms of consolation" -- which she saw often filling in for each other.
Author biography courtesy of the National Book Foundation.
Good To Know
Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Silber:
"The title story of Ideas of Heaven is about American missionaries in China, and I based it loosely on a book of letters from a woman sent out in the 1890s by Oberlin College. I visited China just as I was beginning this story, and something quite amazing happened. In a park in Luoyang a man in his 70s began chatting with me in very good, American-accented English. When he heard I was a college professor, he asked if I'd heard of Oberlin College. It turned out he'd been taught by Oberlin missionaries in Shanxi in the 1930s -- a later group of the Congregationalists who were the models for my characters. I couldn't get over the coincidence, though I don't think it seemed astounding to him. His name is Li Xing Ye (he uses Mark Lee in English), and we've written many letters back and forth since then. I sent him a copy of the book and he was very pleased -- he did say it would take him a long time to read it."
"Grace Paley, my first fiction writing teacher, was a crucial influence. She taught me that humor could be a component of serious fiction and that character was always the thing to look at. Her first assignment was to write something in the voice of an actual person you didn't like.
"I've lived in New York my whole adult life, and as Burt Lancaster says in The Sweet Smell of Success, ‘I love this dirty town.' New Yorkers tend to stake their honor on their degree of self-possession -- whining is okay but panicking is not. They don't necessarily succeed in this and can blunder as badly as anywhere, but this is their standard, their own form of cowboy valor. I have to admit that I'm drawn to this sort of urban restraint."
"When my writing career was not going well, I began putting in volunteer time as a Buddy -- a kind of weekly helper -- to a person with AIDS. It turned out to be a totally great thing to do -- it retuned my perspective and expanded what I thought I could do. I'm still doing it eight years later."