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Secrets of Happiness

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  615 ratings  ·  120 reviews
When a man discovers his father in New York has long had another, secret, family—a wife and two kids—the interlocking fates of both families lead to surprise loyalties, love triangles, and a reservoir of inner strength.

Ethan, a young lawyer in New York, learns that his father has long kept a second family—a Thai wife and two kids living in Queens. In the aftermath of this
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 4th 2021 by Counterpoint
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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 ·  615 ratings  ·  120 reviews

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Elyse  Walters
Nov 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
4.8 rating ... review to follow in a day or two. Must get more sleep ...
overall... I think this might be my favorite Joan Silber book!! One particular part got to me so deeply - I had to step away for a day - before reading more - needing time to contemplate some thoughts. review....

I’m so passionate about these interconnected stories - more than I can contain my deepest appreciation.
We seldom see fiction written like this—masterly-connected - brimming with rebellion and deception
Mar 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
The characters in this novel don't have much in common except a connection, sometimes tenuous, with each other. I thought about the title frequently while reading. Starting with Ethan and his discovery of his father's secret life, the linked stories portray six narrators who all confront obstacles - happiness is not a straight line. But that is the point. Ethan, Joe, Maribel, Rachel, Bud, Tara are all trying to live a better life. Silber writes about them with wisdom and generosity.
(Thank you t
Diane Barnes
May 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
I have long wanted to read something by Joan Silber, since reading all the great reviews of "Improvement". I saw this at my library, brought it home, read it, and now I know. I like her writing, I like her voice, and I want to read more.

"But how do people make these colossal bargains about what they decide to put up with?"

That, my friends, is a question for the ages. Spoken by a 23 year old girl when looking at the relationships all around her. It's what all the people who narrate these intercon
Ron Charles
Apr 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Evidently, we have an inalienable right to pursue happiness. Finding it is another matter. But if we’re failing, it’s not for lack of interest. The market for self-help books has been growing at double-digit rates for years. Surely, if all those earnest titles were laid end to end, they would reach nirvana.

Try searching for Joan Silber’s new novel, “Secrets of Happiness,” and you’ll have to paw through a pile of similar titles from Lucy Diamond, Eckhart Tolle, Billy Graham and others. Depending
Kasa Cotugno
Joan Silber has written some wonderful books, but this may be my favorite. She employs a convention I particularly like - her novels consist of interlocking stories in which the characters are related. The underlying thread that weaves through these stories is love, most specifically, familial love in all its messiness. Brothers and sisters, parents and their offspring, how people meet, how they stay together and what binds them or tears them apart. Whether it was as one character supposes "... ...more
Jun 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
4.25 Stars
Jan 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Who knows where happiness comes from? In this exquisite new book by Joan Silber, the vanity of grasping for happiness—which is destined to slip out of our hands—is revealed through six interlocking narrators. Their tenuous grip is revealed as the very nature of what makes them happy shifts its shape.

It all starts with a man named Gil—a husband and father who is revealed to have two families after he suffers a stroke. Both his American and his Thai-born wife have two children each, and surprising
Holly R W
This is a book of linked stories featuring six character narrators who are related to each other through six degrees of separation. I found each one of these characters to be compelling and interesting to read about. The book opens with a story about a middle-aged man who has two separate families - a Jewish wife and two children living in NYC and a Thai wife and children who have moved to the same city. After this story, the book flows like a stone that skips upon the surface of a river. Each t ...more
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021-net-galley

I have been a devoted fan of Joan Silber's writing for twenty plus year's. You can imagine how excited I was to see this novel arrive on my dashboard. Joan writes interesting and unique literary fiction that is way above average. I didn't even read what this was about I knew that I would enjoy it and it didn't disappoint me as she never has before.

In the very beginning we learn that the husband and father of a long term marriage has had a secret family with two
May 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a perfectly written book. I can't imagine how it could be better.

There are a group of characters whose lives intersect. There is a father with two families--one from Southeast Asia and one from New York City (the story takes place in NYC and Southeast Asia, with a short excursion into England). There is a shifting mosaic of relationships as people search for ways to, as the title implies, find happiness, which is ever elusive.

Everyone and everything is vividly depicted. Reading this was
May 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I hate money. I hate how much we rely upon it. Money is as necessary as it is evil; I would hardly be surprised if money were indeed the root of that very term. What’s more, I hate money’s power and the sense of power it bestows. True authority deserves a better designator than wealth. And yet so many who have money hold it over the heads of those who do not, and not so much to do their doing – it’s because they can.

That being said, my least favorite quality of money is how it often acts – rath
May 27, 2021 rated it liked it
I had expected to enjoy this one more than I actually did. That might have to do with the fact that I was expecting a novel about a family who learn that the husband/father actually has another family with a Thai woman. That story was only covered in the first and last chapters of the book. The remaining chapters consist of short stories which are slightly interconnected - some are about people mentioned in previous stories or a friend or relative of someone in one of the stories. Some of the st ...more
May 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My new favourite writer did it again – made me fall in love with her flawed but lovable characters. I love the precision of her writing, the short sharp paragraphs, its fluidity and art; the way her characters’ monologues flow, packed with incident and story; the way time passes. I love the questions the characters ask, of themselves, of life in general, of happiness and money and family. I love how unafraid Silber is to cross continents, travel to different countries, to inhabit gay characters ...more
May 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I was all ready to give this the ol' 4-star review and say it wasn't gonna change your life or anything, but then I got to the end and realized I was going to do a few things differently, change the way I thought of certain situations or people a bit, as a result of reading this book, so, hey, maybe it will change your life! Add in the fact that it's short, it's a group of linked stories (I'm a sucker for that format), and it's written superbly, and we've got ourselves a five-star book, folks. F ...more
Jessica Woodbury
This is my second book by Silber after IMPROVEMENT, which I really loved. This one has a similar structure of somewhat connected stories though it lacks a little of the focus and heft.

I could read a neverending book by Silber moving from story to story. They don't all feel the same, and the way she integrates you into each story so quickly and gets you so connected is impressive. The downside of this model is that by the end there are enough stories that they don't all feel as strongly defined
May 18, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you crossed Elizabeth Strout with Sigrid Nunez and sprinkled in a little Alice Munro you would be reading Joan Silber. What I particularly loved about this multi-voice novel was how immersed I was in the first voice Ethan and how each subsequent perspective deviated further from him, yet always captured my interest, only to return to him so he bookended this remarkable work. Silber is a writer I trust completely and she never sets me on edge. She inhabits her characters completely and there i ...more
May 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

This short novel explores what the formula is for happiness. Is it your job, money, love, or connections with others? Written in short, unadorned phrases, it is a series of vignettes, each told in the first person by six loosely connected characters. (Another novel in the Olive Kittredge style!). It's probably best read quickly, as one has a tendency to forget the brief mention of the characters in previous vignettes. I had the urge to map out the web of connections. But don't fret over
Robert Blumenthal
Jun 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I had read joan Silber's earlier novel, Lucky Us, and liked it quite a bit, but certainly didn't love it. Secrets of Happiness is on a whole other lever, IMHO. It is a group of 7 short stories that are interconnected, with previous characters appearing in later stories in "It's a Small World After All" manner. It starts off with Ethan, the gay son of a well off couple in New York. They come to discover that their Father has another secret family with a Thai woman. The second story is narrated by ...more
A novel of interlocking stories. Fabulous. I thought these stories were going to be about love, but they are actually about money and betrayal. Title is definitely ironic. Today I had an unpleasant but nonserious medical procedure (a dermatologist made four small cuts on my face). That took more out of me than I had expected, and I was glad to have this book to see me through.
May 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I’ve read by American author Joan Silber. 𝘚𝘦𝘤𝘳𝘦𝘵𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘏𝘢𝘱𝘱𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴 is her latest book. Silber writes very much in the same vein as Joyce Carol Oates with a bit of Nora Ephrons sharp, acerbic wit thrown in.

Set in the US (mainly) during the Trump era, the book comprises 7 chapters written from the point of view of 6 quirky characters, all connected either directly or tenuously.

Ethan, a gay lawyer whose father Gil had a second secret family, opens & closes the book. Joe is a so
I loved this book. Its chapters are really short stories about several people loosely connected to one other, sometimes only tangentially. The same themes keep recurring about money and do you need it, and can you eschew it altogether. It seems that you can, and you can't. ...more
Matthew Adam
May 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A nice multi-POV story that centers around everything and nothing in particular. A wonderful foray into the notion that everyone has delt with/is dealing with something different. The style of interweaving stories of different characters that are sometimes only tangentially related is expertly done and you come away with a sense that these characters are still out there; living their lives as you finish the book and return to yours.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants a fresh perspective o
May 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
4.25 stars. A quick, engrossing novel that cleverly ties all of its separate stories together not only by overlapping characters but by a common theme of the extent to which money may play a part in a person’s happiness.
Susan Leslie
May 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I love how she writes, the interconnected stories.
May 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
A pleasant, low-drama set of linked short stories...nicely written and organized but not much emotional impact.
Jun 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read Joan Silber's amazing collection of interwoven stories, Ideas of Heaven, many years ago and feel in love with her writing. Since then, she has rarely disappointed, and her latest collection is no exception. Comprised of seven chapters, six narrators recount incidents from their lives. The narrators, in one way or another, have crossed paths, and as they tell their stories, the connections between them--some significant, some just passing--resonate, creating a community of which they may n ...more
Jun 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
I received this book as a free gift from the publisher - which was a totally pleasant out-of-the-blue surprise. I had just put it on my to-read list, so was happy to dive in.

It wasn't quite what I expected from the description - rather than a typical narrative it's a series of interlocking stories, similar to A visit from the Goon Squad or recent Elizabeth Strout. Not until the acknowledgements did I know that many of the chapters had been published first in other places. I like interlinking st
Jun 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
"Who knew where happiness came from? Well, actually, there were theories. In the Buddhism my father sometimes followed you heard arguments on the vanity of grasping for happiness. Whatever you ran after and clung to was destined to slip out of your hands, melt like snow, dissolve into thin air. What could be more obvious? The truth of impermanence was somehow a cheering idea to my father...he believed in freedom, my father." p. 218

The book is divided into seven chapters each focused on one chara
Jun 10, 2021 rated it liked it
“She’s mad about what life is…that nothing lasts, that no one does. That we lose everything. She doesn’t like it”

The many interconnected characters in this novel constantly battled with what it meant to be “free” - from possessions? responsibility? accountability? - but there didn’t seem to be any one overarching message in these struggles. The interconnectedness also could have been slightly more interconnected; insinuated overlap between characters never seemed to come to fruition, which was a
Linda Gaines
Jun 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
I liked most of the chapters of the related characters of these families. I soon stopped trying to figure out the connections and just read each one as a short story. I am not sure how happy everyone was and why secrets were kept but the writing is very good.
The RLS rare book was intriguing to me as I have read a lot about him recently.
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Joan Silber is the author of nine books of fiction. Her book Improvement was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award and was listed as one of the year's best books by The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, The Seattle Times, and Kirkus Reviews. She lives in New York and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program. Keep up with Joan at joansilber ...more

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