The Ever-Expanding Joke of Human Trouble:
Improvement by Joan Silber

Jacob Hernández

N.B. This review is not spoiler-free. Character death and imprisonment are central to the book and, hence, the review.

Early on in Joan Silber’s Improvement (Counterpoint, 2017), our protagonist, a young woman named Reyna, remarks on her boyfriend Boyd’s ability to console his loved ones by divining the wry humor in their personal tribulations, an act of attention and care that allows them to link their private pain to “the ever-expanding joke of human trouble.” This well-turned phrase doubles as a fitting summary of Silber’s main thematic concern as a fiction writer, particularly in her recent story cycles Ideas of Heaven (W. W. Norton, 2004) and Fools (W. W. Norton, 2013), which move between protagonists and settings across space and time in order to dramatize the ways in which the consequences of human actions ripple outwards throughout seemingly unconnected lives.

Purchase Joan Silber’s work here.