Summary and book reviews of Improvement by Joan Silber

Improvement

A Novel

by Joan Silber

Improvement by Joan Silber X
Improvement by Joan Silber
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2017, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in New York, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected implications for the world around them.

Reyna knows her relationship with Boyd isn't perfect, yet as she visits him throughout his three-month stint at Rikers Island, their bond grows tighter. Kiki, now settled in the East Village after a journey that took her to Turkey and around the world, admires her niece's spirit but worries that she always picks the wrong man. Little does she know that the otherwise honorable Boyd is pulling Reyna into a cigarette smuggling scheme, across state lines, where he could risk violating probation. When Reyna ultimately decides to remove herself for the sake of her four-year-old child, 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, and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki's beloved Turkish rugs, as colorful as the tattoos decorating Reyna's body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising and unexpected as the lives all around us. The Boston Globe says of Joan Silber: "No other writer can make a few small decisions ripple across the globe, and across time, with more subtlety and power." Improvement is Silber's most shining achievement yet.

Excerpt
Improvement

Everyone knows this can happen. People travel and they find places they like so much they think they've risen to their best selves just by being there. They feel distant from everyone at home who can't begin to understand. They take up with beautiful locals of the opposite sex, they settle in, they get used to how everything works, they make homes. But maybe not forever.

I had an aunt who was such a person. She went to Istanbul when she was in her twenties. She met a goodlooking carpet seller from Cappadocia. She'd been a classics major in college and had many questions to ask him, many observations to offer. He was a gentle and intelligent man who spent his days talking to travelers. He'd come to think he no longer knew what to say to Turkish girls, and he loved my aunt's airy conversation. When her girlfriends went back to Greece, she stayed behind and moved in with him. This was in 1970.

His shop was in Sultanahmet, where tourists went...

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  • award image

    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2017

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

With achingly real characters and sharp writing, Improvement is a reminder that our actions have real consequences that cannot always be predicted. The only comfort can be derived from living our best lives; putting one brave foot in front of the other every single day.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

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Media Reviews

Booklist
Fans of character-driven, literary fiction should be on the lookout for Improvement.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. There is something so refreshing and genuine about this book, coming partly from the bumpy weave of its unpredictable story and partly from its sharply turned yet refreshingly unmannered prose. A winner.

Author Blurb Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies
I love all of Joan Silber's work for her mastery of character, her ferocious and searching compassion, and her elegant lines that make the mind hum for hours. Improvement is so crisp and resonant a novel that it made me forget the chaos of life around me; a feat for which I'm truly grateful

Author Blurb Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You
Joan Silber is America's own Alice Munro. The psychological acuity, the ambition, the breadth of time and space: it's all there in Improvement , which demonstrates with great poignancy how our small decisions ramify out and touch the lives of people we don't even know. This book is deep and true and riveting.

Author Blurb Lily Tuck, author of The Double Life of Liliane
In Improvement , Joan Silber's skillful new novel, characters suffer from failed romances, moves to distant shores, and death, yet somehow, they manage to find each other in the end, and reconnect in deeply meaningful and satisfying ways. Silber is not only a gorgeous and masterful writer, she is also a wise and knowing one.

Author Blurb Marisa Silver, author of Little Nothing and Mary Coin
More than any writer I know, Joan Silber's fiction makes sense of the randomness of our connections while honoring the essential mystery that drives our desires. Her sentences are so finely tuned that they miraculously convey her characters' everyday foibles and ecstatic recognitions at the very same time. Improvement is a searching and profound novel by one of our masters.

Author Blurb Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and Archangel
Subtle, sexy, brilliant in its unexpected connections and soulful generosity, this is an intensely satisfying novel.

Author Blurb Karen E. Bender, author of Refund, a finalist for the National Book Award
This is a magnificent work about the complexity of human connection, full of remarkable insight and compassion.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Cigarette Smuggling to New York City

No Smuggling SignIn Joan Silber's Improvement, one of the characters starts a cigarette-smuggling venture after getting out of Rikers prison.

A carton of cigarettes might cost around $55 in Virginia but close to double that in New York City because of steep taxes. New York state has the highest state tax on cigarettes and New York City imposes an additional $1.50 on each pack. But smuggling cigarettes from states like Virginia has led to the undercutting of cigarette prices in the Big Apple and increased tobacco addiction among youth – exactly what the tax hikes had been instituted to prevent. Both the smugglers and the retailers who sell these cigarettes at below market price make a hefty profit off of sales.

Cigarette SmugglingAccording to an article in The ...

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