About the Book
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 colourful as the tattoos decorating Reyna’s body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising and unexpected as the lives all around us.
Format: Hardcover (240 pages) Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication date: 7th February 2019 Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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Improvement unfolds in a series of interconnected stories focusing on different characters, starting with Reyna whose boyfriend, Boyd, is a prisoner in Rikers Island. When Reyna takes what might be considered a morally correct decision it sets off a chain of unintended consequences whose impact on other people will gradually be revealed.
In some cases, the connections between characters are tangential; the result of a chance moment in time. In others they are more direct – friends, lovers, business contacts. Moving backwards and forwards in time, I found it especially poignant when the reader possesses foreknowledge a character does not. We know why a call is not returned, nor ever likely to be.
Thanks to the skill of the author, all the characters seem totally real. They have flaws, they make poor decisions but they also try to do the correct thing, to right wrongs and make amends. Although, as one character remarks, “How much could ever be fixed?”
My favourite character was Reyna’s aunt, Kiki. Her colourful experiences when younger – “her old and fabled past” – take the reader on an enjoyable detour to Istanbul and the Turkish countryside.
In the book it seems to me ‘improvement’ takes many forms. For some it’s a better economic position or the rekindling of affection within a marriage. For others it’s finding a goal to work toward. As one character puts it, “The point was to ask for strength. Improvement wasn’t coming any other way.” Conversely, as Reyna notes sadly, for Boyd it is “the promise of criminal glory that was giving him his style back”.
Improvement invites us to consider the interconnectedness of the world we inhabit and the consequences of our actions on others. It also demonstrates the acute observational skills and deft touch that has made Joan Silber’s writing so admired.
I received a review copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin UK and Readers First.
In three words: Assured, insightful, intimate
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About the Author
Joan Silber is the author of eight books of fiction. Improvement was the winner of The National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award. It was listed as one of the year’s best books by the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, the Seattle Times and BBC Culture. In 2018 she also received the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in the short story. Her previous book, Fools, was longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her other works include The Size of the World, finalist for the LA Times Fiction Prize, and Ideas of Heaven, finalist for the National Book Award and the Story Prize.
She lives in New York after college and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program. (Photo credit: author website)
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