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Improvement

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  3,422 ratings  ·  492 reviews
One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in Harlem, 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 she sees him through a three-month stint at Riker's Island, their bond growing t
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Hardcover, 240 pages
Published February 7th 2019 by Allen & Unwin (first published November 14th 2017)
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Ramin Hosseini For a number of reasons, I think, yes. It does.
It shows different aspects of some characters already introduced in the previous chapters, namely Bruno…more
For a number of reasons, I think, yes. It does.
It shows different aspects of some characters already introduced in the previous chapters, namely Bruno and Steffi. We learn that even Bruno is capable of doing some good and Steffi while dealing with death tries to keep her face and, in her own why, play the role of the mother (interestingly enough she is mostly addressed as “her mother” in this chapter).
We can see the dominant themes of the novel (sacrifice, forgiveness, money, death, and love) in this chapter as well.
This chapter present us with a view of the modern Berlin with its stumble stones and Holocaust Memorials.
Last but not least, Silber through establishing the relationship between Monika and Lynnette enables us to see the latter from a totally different point of view than that of Rayna.
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3.55  · 
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 ·  3,422 ratings  ·  492 reviews


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Elyse Walters
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew nothing about this 72 year ‘stunning-attractive’ author until “Improvement”. I’m not even sure what drew me to it. The library had it readily available as an e-book on my OverDrive. I downloaded it and started reading with zero information just because something about the title and internet book cover caught my attention.
I’m loving the easy connection to our libraries more and more.

There are six narrators making this book feel like a cross between a novel and linked stories. The last time
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Diane S ☔
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The butterfly effect ably displayed in literary form. We start with an aunt, KiKi, who has had a varied life, but is now living fairly close to her neice, Reyna. Reyna has a young son, but visits her boyfriend who is serving a short term at Rikers. When he gets out, he and his friends, hatch a money making scheme, which if discovered could carry serious penalties. Reyna, in a moment of weakness, makes a decision that she later rescinds. This would have a snowball effect on many lives.

A decision
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Victoria
This is my first novel by noted author Joan Silber and I was immediately consumed by her easy, natural writing style and the theme--that of the butterfly effect--is one that I am often drawn to in literature. In this novel, the effect of one person’s choice affects what happens to another which leaves yet a third with questions and another grappling with the aftermath. I’m being intentionally vague as the concept is what gives this novel its significance and it is best left for the reader to dis ...more
Dianne
Sep 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Improvement” is a novel constructed as a series of interrelated vignettes. The first story arc revolves around Reyna, a young single mother who has a penchant for making poor life choices. Reyna is currently involved with a young man on probation from Rikers in New York. He and his buddies hatch a scheme to smuggle cigarettes from Virginia into New York and Reyna is reluctantly pulled into their plans. She ultimately makes a decision that has unintended consequences, altering lives and relation ...more
Jill
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In chaos theory, it is said that if a butterfly flutters its wings, a typhoon can ultimately occur halfway around the world. Put another way, even the smallest step changes lives immeasurably.

And so it is in this satisfying new novel by Joan Silber. Reyna is involved with a petty thief named Boyd, who is doing time at Rikers Island. He leaves the stint mostly unrepentant and soon enough, Reyna is drawn into his cigarette smuggling scheme. As the mother of a toddler, she backs away, setting in mo
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Jennifer Blankfein
Connecting 1970s Turkey and New York today, 72 year old author Joan Silber, winner of the 2018 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction weaves a tapestry of interpersonal connections and shows how relationships bind us together and decisions have widespread impact across countries and over time in her latest novel, Improvement.

Reyna is a single mother living in Harlem and standing by her not so perfect boyfriend, Boyd, as she visits him during his 3 month incarceration at Riker’s. Her Aunt Kiki lives in t
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Jessica Woodbury
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2018
This book is awfully close to five stars for me. If you enjoy Elizabeth Strout's style, you should give IMPROVEMENT a try.

Silber takes the set of interconnected stories to a place I've never quite seen it taken before here, and the effect is rather breathtaking. Reyna is at the center of the book, a white single woman barely getting by living in an illegal lease and waiting for her boyfriend to get out of jail. Reyna is in her late 20's, working for low wages as an assistant in a veterinary cli
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Roger Brunyate
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stories
It’s a Connected World
Darisse was secretly becoming more religious, but in private; she had her own rituals. She sat on her bed with her eyes closed; she thought of the walls of the room turning into air. Air from a larger space. The point was to ask for strength. Improvement wasn’t coming any other way. She was doing this almost every night and there was an aftereffect that pleased her.
First, some background. I have been interested in Joan Silber ever since reading her Ideas of Heaven in 20
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switterbug (Betsey)
IMPROVEMENT is a novel, mostly centered in New York, but also Berlin and Turkey, about people trying to improve their lives, despite the small or catastrophic tragedies that changed their position or outlook. The people in Silber’s cast are either related to each other by family; their circumstances; by a generation; or by several degrees of separation. In some instances, they are intimately associated with each other, or acquainted, but at times, it is only a casual or chance agency that is rel ...more
Jonathan Pool
My first Joan Silber, an author unknown to me until the shortlisting of Improvement in this year’s (2018) National Book Critics Circle Award.
I enjoyed the read, the prose is easy, and this set of linked stories are relatively uncomplicated and gently revealed.

There are two clearly signposted themes in the stories. Firstly, that of the interconnectedness of life - the butterfly effect; secondly the endeavours we undertake to improve our lives, not least through our connection with lovers, who mig
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Kathleen
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
National Book Critic Circle Award 2017. Silber’s interconnected stories move like a river from one to the next. The novel begins with Reyna whose boyfriend ends up at Rikers Island for three months for selling 5 ounces of weed. She faithfully visits him every week. Her aunt Kiki supports Reyna’s decisions, but subtly questions Reyna’s trust in Boyd. Silber has the narrative river flow from Reyna to Kiki—who married a Turk and lived in Turkey for a number of years. This becomes pertinent when the ...more
Rebecca
I’ve been thinking a lot about linked short story collections recently. I find them easier to read than the average short story volume because there are fewer characters and settings to keep track of, and you get the fun of tracing unexpected connections between characters. Improvement didn’t quite work for me in that way, mostly because you can tell that it started as one short story, “About My Aunt”: now the untitled first chapter, it is, as you might guess, a solid stand-alone narrative about ...more
Jennifer Louden
I read this in a few hours but in the end I was like "huh?" I didn't get how the stories worked together or feel much. The voice keeps a distance. Yet the writing and voice are hypnotic.
Ellie
Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interlocking stories form the backbone of this novel (Silber has used a similar technique before in her collection of stories, Fools: Stories). The book consists of stories told by several very different people: Reyna, a single mother living in Harlem who is in love with a petty thief, her aunt who lives in the Village and who lived for a number of years in Turkey, the daughter of one of the women Kiki (the aunt) met in Turkey who is connected to the sister of a friend of the first story. The bo ...more
Katie
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Improvement by Joan Silber has already won the Pen Faulkner Award for Fiction as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award and I can definitely see why. It is beautifully crafted without being overdone. The writing is crisp and clear, but never ordinary.

It is hard to give you a sense of the plot of Improvement without taking away its magic. Silber tells the story of a single mother, Reyna, who is visiting her boyfriend, Boyd, in prison. Once Boyd is released, he falls in with friends who a
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Rachel Hall
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A delightful testimony to the circle of life and human connections the whole world over! Beautifully written, genuinely moving.

Joan Silber’s insightful and compact novel, Improvement, takes the form of a series of interconnected stories and examines how a decision in one characters life can go on to have such a consequential impact on that of another. Spanning the 1970s to 2012 and providing a snapshot of over a dozen characters the result is a rewarding and gently humorous ensemble of stories i
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Joe Kraus
One answer to post-post-structuralism was the idea (mostly by way of Delleuze and Guattari) of the rhizome, the sense that there is a structure beyond easy structure, an organic form that blurs the line between a recognizable pattern and mess. That is, the rhizome has a pattern, but it isn’t anything we can replicate. It grows where space and opportunity permit, and it’s only after the fact that we can see its support of the mushroom or other fungus above it.

I’m a big admirer of what seems the f
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Matthew
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s early on Christmas morning as I write this, having just finished Joan Silber’s dynamo offering, Improvement. Fittingly I’m pondering how I too can improve: as a father, husband, family member, friend, writer, Goodreads enthusiast. I imagine I’ll be granted temporary reprieve the moment my daughter wakes up and sees that Santa was very generous this year. It’ll be an area I shan’t need any immediate improvement in (for at least a half hour); Silber’s novel, however, had me contemplating the ...more
Bookread2day
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved Joan Silber's writing. The front cover doesn't give much away about the feeling for this excellent novel. I would have liked to have seen a different cover to reflect this fabulous book. Two things that grabbed my attention. The first thing is that a portion of this novel have been printed in magazines. The first chapter of Improvement actually first appeared under the heading About My Aunt in Tin House. Then came a chapter four that appeared under the title Coverage, in the Colorado Revie ...more
Elaine
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
This series of interlocking stories with different perspectives showed up on the NTY best books for 2017, which meant that it slowly worked its way up my list of books to read. These types of novels rely completely on the authors skill in finding ways to connect different characters and story lines without being too obvious, or too pointed. The author uses a light touch, which I very much value, and yet the final connection is meaningful and satisfying. She has great insights into human nature a ...more
Carole P. Roman
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started it on the plane and could not put it down until we landed. Silber writes a mesmerizing story that seemingly ambles from one well-developed character to the other with no apparent rhyme or reason, but trust me, it is there. Almost, but not quite a collection of short stories, it is about a community of people, so connected, their lives are interwoven like the threads of the rug that touches each of their lives. Random but real, it is the story of how we are attached to each other, and w ...more
Doug
May 15, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really don't get all the hoopla about Silber, nor why this won the National Critic's Circle Award. I found the storyline (such as it is) boring, the characters unconvincing, the prose totally unremarkable, and there is also an unsettling subtle strain of racism (towards both African-Americans and Germans) here that I found disturbing. There was really nothing new or innovative in the loosely connected interlinked stories format either. I almost abandoned it several times, and wish I had, as th ...more
Mrtruscott
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I realized, again, that my reading speed is related to both the quality of the book and whether or not I like the book, and/or the plot, and/or the characters, setting, etc....

I loved this book. I actually went back and re-read a significant section of it, or I would’ve finished it faster.

I was intrigued by Silber’s framework, and the way that she invented such a different group of characters and then (dare I use a rug metaphor?) wove them together.

This was a superbly written and crafted novel.
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Susan Liston
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018
This is probably deserving of more stars, I liked the writing, but it should be called what it is, interrelated short stories. After getting involved with the original narrator and her hippy-ish aunt, they both disappear and I had to wade through a new bunch of characters instead, none of whom I was particularly interested in. (Which might not be their fault, just that I was annoyed at the unexpected turn) The originals do pop in again, but not in any significant way. I predict that I will forge ...more
Jamesboggie
I read Improvement with my nongenre book club. It is a departure from my normal science fiction fare. I would describe the book as intimate, human, and contemplative.

I find the marketing for this book misleading in two ways. First, I do not know where the title came from. Improvement has no plot or thematic relevance to the book. Second and more importantly, it was described as “about a young single mother living in New York, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected
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Jana
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What is better than a staff recommendation table in an Indie book store? And especially my beloved Elliot Bay Book Co in Seattle. So when my visiting from Boston book friend and I were there recently, we both wondered how did we not know this author they are recommending? Not only them, but the WaPo best book of the year, the Pen Faulkner winner. Etc etc.

We left with a copy each.

I love an intertwined, connected stories novel. I traveled to Turkey and to Germany via the book. I read part of it
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JoAnn
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! In fact, Joan Silber is one of my favorite author discoveries of 2018. Improvement is actually a collection of short stories... connected, but only tangentially. They take the reader from New York City, to Turkey and Germany, and, when woven together, form something unique and beautiful. I look forward to reading more of this author.

4.5 / 5 stars
Dave
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel approaches being a collection short stories around related characters over time, like Go Down Moses.

Another novel with a downward mobile female protagonist [I just finished House of Sand and Fog and Disgrace] Reyna trades her leafy Boston suburbs for a Harlem housing project and a boyfriend in Rikers. After he gets out his friends hatch a new plan - buttlegging - buying cigarettes in VA and selling them in NY to take advantage of the gross tax difference - like $5 a pack. It adds up.
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Susie Wang
I realized I didn't write a review for this one.

It's a highly enjoyable literary fiction, told in the form of several novellas. It's very comparable to Olive Kitteridge, both in forms and the vibe. But it lacks the incredible character building that essentially made Olive Kitteridge.

The author has a great voice, engaging and humorous. The stories are laid out intricately, yet very randomly. They seem like stories that could happen in real life. And that made me enjoy it more. You don't really ha
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Sonya
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I've read several Joan Silber novels and I'm always pulled into the worlds she builds with a few deft passages about the interior lives of her characters. In this short novel (less than 200 pages) we meet and follow the lives of several characters who are connected by brief encounters and a fateful decision.
Silber doesn't shy away from questioning our morality and she always demonstrates the power of empathy and love. But her prose isn't overwritten, nor flowery. It's straightforward, direct, an
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Joan Silber is the author of six previous works of fiction. Among many awards and honors, she has won a PEN/Hemingway Award and has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.
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