Joan Silber, Fiction Winner for ‘Improvement’

By Tom Beer

Tom Beer, chair of the fiction committee, presented this citation to award winner Joan Silber, for her novel Improvement.

Some writers wow us with verbal pyrotechnics and wildly outrageous scenarios. Others ply their trade more quietly — relying on subtle language and profound insight into human nature, making art of everyday lives. Joan Silber belongs to the latter category, and nowhere are her gifts on better display than in her seventh work of fiction, Improvement. A novel that might also be classified as a tightly woven collection of linked stories, Improvement’s eight chapters radiate out from Reyna, a tattooed single mom in New York. Chance, accidents, random encounters: The mysterious workings of fate are one of Silber’s great themes here. So, too, is ambition, as the title,Improvement,suggests. Silber views her characters’ strivings with an empathetic tenderness. That authorial stance is reflected in the prose of Improvement, which is colloquial and knowing and seemingly effortless. There is not a wasted word in all of the novel’s 227 pages, which nevertheless contain multitudes. 

Photo by John Midgley.