published by Counterpoint (November 14, 2017)

A bold and piercing novel about a single mother in New York with a boyfriend just out of jail, a knowing and eccentric aunt with a past in Turkey, and a decision that leads to an accidental death with consequences for many.

Read what reviewers have said about Joan.

Joan Silber is America’s own Alice Munro — and her new novel shows why

The Decisive Moment

Improvement by Joan Silber review – the US’s own Alice Munro?

A Rich Novel That Reveals Itself Through Linked Lives


published by W.W. Norton & Company (2013)

When is it wise to be a fool for something? What makes people want to be better than they are? From New York to India to Paris, from the Catholic Worker movement to Occupy Wall Street, the characters in Joan Silber’s dazzling new story cycle tackle this question head-on. Vera, the shy, anarchist daughter of missionary parents, leaves her family for love and activism in New York. A generation later, her doubting daughter insists on the truth of being of two minds, even in marriage. The adulterous son of a Florida hotel owner steals money from his family and departs for Paris, where he finds himself outsmarted in turn. Fools ponders the circle of winners and losers, dupers and duped, and the price we pay for our beliefs.

The Size of The World

published by Norton (2008, Paperback 2009)

“The elusive connection between place and happiness” is explored by six men and women who leave familiar surroundings for foreign landscapes. From an American engineer in wartime Vietnam to a storekeeper’s daughter in Mussolini’s Italy to an American married to a Thai Muslim against her family’s wishes, the fates of people cross and wind around each other, as each narrates a life-story marked by the jolts of encounters in a wider world.


  • Finalist, Los Angeles Times Prize in Fiction
  • Seattle Times Ten Best Books of Fiction of the Year

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Ideas of Heaven

published by Norton (2004, Paperback 2005)

Beset by love and longings, this array of characters comes to see the ways “sex and religion [are] always fighting over the same ground…each running into the breach left by the other.” With settings as diverse as modern New York, Renaissance Venice, and the late-nineteenth-century China of missionaries, Silber pioneers in this collection her method of letting a minor element in one story become major in the next.


  • Finalist, National Book Award
  • Finalist, Story Prize

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The Art of Time in Fiction

published by Graywolf Press (2009)

As a writer whose stories often cover whole lifetimes, Silber has grappled with fiction’s unique task of conveying time. This lively, lucid study looks at how various great writers have decided how much time a story needs to shape its meaning, and the art of convincing a reader that “three decades have passed in the five hours it took to read certain pages.” With examples from world fiction—Gustave Flaubert to Arundhati Roy to Chinua Achebe—the book illuminates work both familiar and new. It is a favorite of writers who teach and has gone into a second printing.

Household Words

published as Norton Paperback (2005), with an introduction by Mona Simpson; first published by Viking Press (1980)

What begins as a cozy family novel set in the New Jersey suburbs (the opening line is “Rhoda was pregnant in 1940”) becomes an unsettling chronicle—as Rhoda’s expectations are unraveled by an untimely death, an unexpected illness, and bitter discord at home. Shattering and powerful in its effects, without ever losing its wry touches of humor, Silber’s first novel took the popular form of the domestic novel and blasted deeper paths into it. An underground classic, re-issued.


  • Winner, Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for best first fiction

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Lucky Us

published by Algonguin (2001)

Elisa, a very hip (and often shrewdly funny) young painter in Manhattan, makes a pass at Gabe, a bookish, much older man who once went to jail for dealing drugs, and they end up truly in love. She is proud when the weathered Gabe, who’s spent decades “without depending on anything turning out well,” is won over to hope in the form of marriage plans. When Elisa discovers she is HIV- positive, everything shifts. Gabe is the voice of stability and union and Elisa begins to drift toward rootlessness and the revival of an old, destructive relationship. How these two vivid, impossible people move toward living with their luck forms this least sentimental of modern love stories.

In My Other Life

published by Sarabande 2000)

Grounded in New York, each of these stories focuses on “the Great Divide”—the surprising reversal that separates an old life from the new.. In “Lake Natasink” (first published in The New Yorker), an ex-junkie keeps taunting an old friend about to move to the country. In “Ragazzi,” two former rock groupies, with families and jobs, try to remember “how they learned not to be idiots.” In “Commendable,” a former stripper thinks about a life without sex. The heroes here are bartenders, ex-drug dealers, birth control counselors, video store managers—people who have been around the proverbial block. Once “too young, too vain, too something to think about the consequences,” they live out their own startling transformations.


In The City

published by Viking Penguin 1987, paperback 1988

In 1925, Pauline Samuels, fresh out of high school in Newark, believes she is moving light years away from her immigrant parents when she crosses the river to settle in Greenwich Village. She wants to “enter, somehow, a circle of people who [do] artistic and outrageous things and to be admired by them, to be famous for being with them.” As she happily enters a life of speakeasies, parties, and political rallies, she learns hard lessons in love affairs (one tinged by violence) and sheds illusions. In this second novel, Silber has her eye once again on how the assumptions of one era are outfoxed by experience.