In My Other Life


A hip New Yorker confronts the accident of middle age.
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A hip New Yorker confronts the accident of middle age.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Silber, the author of two previous novels, treats dysfunction a bit more gently than Lorrie Moore, with whom she shares a marvelous, perspicacious wit. Her characters struggle to keep going, however slowly, without losing their dignity. . . These elegant and wise stories pay tribute to ordinary urban heroes people who have lived long enough to know that when misfortune shows up, there's no need to make a fuss.

She offers an archaeology of feeling layered with pure, vivid insight.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Troubled, middle-aged New Yorkers ponder their wild youthful selves and their belated or botched second chances in these 12 accessible, moving tales. Novelist Silber (Household Words; In the City) imagines households of mostly decent, though emotionally scarred, women and men trying to cope with kids, difficult exes or grown siblings. Some of these reflective characters can hardly believe they've outlived their perilous youth. The loquacious narrator in "Bobby Jackson" reminisces about his days as a downtown bartender and smack addict ("I was swimming around in fulfilled wishes"). He's survived to become a divorced realtor with a daughter, but fears his pals from the old days have fared far worse. In "Lake Natasink" (first published in the New Yorker), Patty and her lover, Charlotte, prepare to move with their adopted baby from New York City to a farmhouse upstate; "Ordinary" follows these same three characters to their not-quite-paradisial country life. Here and in the poignant "Commendable," Silber authentically depicts the affections and troubles of unconventional couples, making accurate, sensitive prose look easy. She can also sharply portray dysfunctional couples, or uneasy relationships among exes. Devotees of Alice Munro will find in Silber a simpler take on some of Munro's favorite themes: the revised expectations of middle age; the fading and nuanced traumas of adolescence; the lingering hangover from the hippie era. "What Lasts," a tale of volatile newlyweds, contains some of the book's most striking, skeptical writing, exemplary of the keen, expressive sense of the improbable, of dumb luck and ill luck, and of unlikely recovery that makes Silber's stories so warmly convincing. Agent, Geri Thoma at the Elaine Markson Literary Agency. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Silber's appropriately titled new collection features characters who lived recklessly in their young adulthood but have reached a middle age fraught with mundane problems and the typical issues raised by spouses and children. "Lake Natasink" and "Ordinary" portray the experiences of a lesbian couple before and after they move from New York City to a small town upstate. New York figures prominently in many stories as a place either to escape from or return to. Many of the characters' younger selves worked in bars and restaurants, supplementing their income with drug dealing. "Bobby Jackson" captures the nostalgia for "hanging out" with friends after work and staying up all night. In "First Marriage" a woman is surprised to find that her green card marriage is permanent. A nicely executed collection; recommended.--Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Idaho Lib., Moscow Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781889330433
  • Publisher: Sarabande Books
  • Publication date: 5/1/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan Silber
Joan Silber
"I know no one else who writes as Joan Silber does, with such an immediate contemporary voice, about our secret yearnings for a spiritual life," observes Margot Livesey, author of Banishing Verona.


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."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 14, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1967; M.A., New York University, 1980

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