Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ideas Of Heaven by Joan Silber

I wanted only to be quiet, in the weeks right after. I was trying to remember my old life, when I had been reasonable and had taken a passing interest in all sorts of things around me... I still had my anguish in thinking of him, and a longing that stayed with me, like a secret faith.

Ideas Of Heaven: A Ring Of Stories
by Joan Silber was so delightful and easy for me to polish off, it took some time to register just when and where her characters began to haunt me. All six stories are written in first person narrative. Each voice has its own rhythm, tone and charm — their narration has a deceptive ease which makes their uniqueness all the more remarkable. As I read I began to feel like the bartender in whom complete strangers are only too happy to confide their most troubling desires.

Silber's characters puzzle over the chasm that yawns between longing and gratification. Some of them experience gratification, usually from unexpected sources; others exist in a curiously elevated state of tension. The desires of the heart and the frailty of the flesh are a constant source of surprise and wonder. Death punctuates the stories, but I found reading the book to be a strangely joyful experience.

Full disclosure: I found this book on the Final Remainders table, and bought it for a pittance. It lay beside the bed for a while. When I finished reading The Devil In The White City* I reached for the next thing and discovered it was Ideas Of Heaven. I imagined Silber was akin to Alice Munro (a blurb-comparison in the bookflap), and didn't think I was up for New Yorker-type tales of quiet desperation. The house had cooled for the night, however, and I was even more reluctant to get out of bed to find that Philip Kerr novel I'd been keen on. After two pages I was happily committed to putting Bernie Gunther on hold for just a little longer. Ideas of Heaven is quick reading that sticks to the ribs, and has me curious to read more of Joan Silber's work. (A)

*I enjoyed The Devil In The White City (A) but so did a lot of other erudite people, so I won't bother with additional commentary.

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