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Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories


"In Silber’s magnificent fiction . . . the characters’ lifetimes pass with a page-turning effortlessness that belies their intense, moving depths."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The writing manages, impossibly, to be both immediate and majestic. A striking collection from one of our best.”
—Patricia Hampl
“I know no one else who writes as Joan Silber does, with such an immediate contemporary voice, about our secret yearnings for a spiritual life. Yet her richly imagined characters are always beautifully, and often carnally, engaged with the world. These are beautiful stories, remarkable for their range, and for the glimpses they give of what it might be like to escape the emergency of the self.”
—Margot Livesey
“These are stories about ‘love’s wreckage,’ yet amid the flotsam and jetsam of loss and longing, the reader is buoyed up by Silber’s elegantly sensuous prose, her elastic wit, and the sheer startling humanity of her characters. Individually, each piece is an intimate marvel; cumulatively, they add up to a marvelous book, whose subtly associative structure gently but profoundly reinstates the short story collection.”
—Peter Ho Davies
"Big ideas come in lovely small packages in this collection by Silber (Lucky Us, etc.). Six elegantly connected stories explore, through first-person narratives, the conflicts and commonalities of love, faith and sex. A minor character in the first story becomes the narrator in the second, and so on, with each story building on its predecessor until they come full circle. Alice, a flighty American would-be dancer, struggles with her body and the difficult men in her life in 'My Shape'; Duncan, an embittered gay dancer (and one-time teacher of Alice) describes embarrassment, heartbreak and the comforts of renunciation in 'The High Road.' In 'Gaspara Stampa,' the titular 16th-century Italian poet narrates her torturous love affairs and the art she makes of them; in 'Ashes of Love,' an ex-hippie and world traveler, whose capricious wife left him to raise their troubled son, later tries to balance his attentions between the boy and his new, younger lover. In the title story, a missionary's wife in turn-of-the-century China tells of learning to live in a foreign world and faces death during the Boxer Rebellion. Each of Silber's narrators reflects on his or her shifting fortunes with the calm wisdom of hindsight, without diminishing the power of immediate experience. Silber uses the device of interwoven narratives beautifully; these lengthy stories can stand alone, but the subtle connections and emotional resonances help create a satisfying structural unity. Silber's wise, compassionate chronicles of longing, devotion and the search for comfort, both spiritual and physical, will move readers to contemplation and delight.
Publishers Weekly, starred review
“These stories deftly create the ring promised in their subtitle, as major characters in one story reappear as minor players in another…The stories are about rapturous love and devastating loss….Love, like these beautiful stories, offers devotion, consolation, and transcendence.”
—Barbara Fisher, Boston Globe
“A standout…Silber travels the globe and the centuries with ease. If more collections were like this one, readers would gladly abandon the novel.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Luminous, stunning….The disbelief that must be suspended is that such characters as these could express themselves with so much poetry and insight as we find in Silber’s texts, but we do suspend disbelief and ride her proposition that every human being, when stripped of self-delusion, can become an artist.”
—Laurie Stone, Chicago Tribune
“[Silber] writes successfully in many voices, women and men, gay and straight, present-day and historic. A matter-of-fact detachment toward affairs of the heart is contrast moments of uncontrollable passion…. Wonderfully evocative of time and place, this a collection to be read and savored by all.”
—Danise Hoover, Booklist
“There are …books whose pieces are linked not by mere repetition of the protagonist but by genuine artfulness and imaginative necessity: Joan Silber’s splendid new Ideas of Heaven, for example, in which the smallest wisp of one story will, in the next, sometimes blaze to full, unexpected life.”
—Thomas Mallon, New York Times Book Review

Read the Powells review