Fools by Joan Silber: More please (reprised)!

Cover image for Fools by Joan SilberI’m an enthusiastic fan of Joan Silber’s fiction having loved both Improvement and Secrets of Happiness and was delighted to find that not one but two of her backlisted books were to be published here in the UK. Both come billed as linked short stories, my favourite kind of collection. I’ve plumped to review Fools for now but may come back Ideas of Heaven later if I have time.

All our excited feelings for each other were mixed up with ideas, with anger and vision, but what was wrong with that?

Set in a 1920s Greenwich Village anarchist commune, the titular story sees Vera watch Dorothy take to religion, trying to stifle her own feelings for her friend’s partner and remain loyal to her husband. In The Hanging Fruit the son of a hotelier remembers taking himself off to Paris in disgrace where he suffered a comeuppance that shaped the rest of his life and met his mother’s first husband, the author of a notorious memoir of their New York anarchist youth. Two Opinions sees Vera’s daughter remembering childhood visits to her father in prison, gaoled for his pacifist principles for which she pays a high price when her own husband finds a job at a military base in Japan but perhaps a life lived separately is better for both of them. In Better, Marcus consoles himself with a memoir written by an ex-anarchist whose romantic problems chime with his own, reflecting on his trip to India which changed him in ways he’d forgotten. Going Too Far sees Gerard remembering the wrongful firing of a member of his mother’s hotel staff which set him on a cynical path when a glimpse of the hajj attended by his estranged Muslim wife makes him realise what he’d lost by turning his back on belief and principle. In the final story, Buying and Selling, a New York investment banker turned charity fundraiser set his sights on the French widow of a Moroccan sheikh, or so she says, but his charm appears to fail him.

I lived in a sea of extra helpings, on an island of the overfed

Replete with period detail, Fools neatly sets the scene for this enjoyable collection, introducing many of the themes running through it – social justice, idealism, religion, principles, love – it seems we’re all fools for something. Each of these stories is characterised by same quiet understatement and insight that marked Improvement and Secrets of Happiness. Silber’s characters make mistakes, embrace redemption, have epiphanies, struggle with temptation, fall in love and out again, just as we all do. Part of the enjoyment with a linked collection is spotting connections between characters, all deftly done here. I’m hoping yet more of her lengthy backlist will be published here soon.

Allen and Unwin: London 978183956615 256 pages Paperback (Read via NetGalley)

15 thoughts on “Fools by Joan Silber: More please (reprised)!”

  1. I rarely remember to hunt down short stories, but often enjoy them a great deal when I do. This looks an appetising collection, and an introduction to an author I don’t know.

  2. I’ve had a copy of Silber’s Secrets of Happiness for a couple of years now, just waiting for my attention. Your review is inspiring me to get moving on it and — I just happen to have a long plane trip coming up!
    Silber’s short story collection sounds super (I, too, like linked stories). I’ll have to check it out, particularly as she’s one of those writers who’s been on my “must read” list for some time now.

    1. She’d make great company on a long flight! Reading Fools felt like a natural progression, somehow, as both Secrets of Happiness and Impovement read like very closely linked short stories to me.

  3. Silber is another new-to-me author but I like the idea of how the stories on the collection connect up to each other. Must explore. That one story has an India connection piqued my interest too.

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.