Improvement by Joan Silber: exploring the butterfly effect


“One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in New York, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected implications for the world around them.

Reyna knows her relationship with Boyd isn’t perfect, yet as she visits him throughout his three-month stint at Rikers Island, their bond grows tighter. Kiki, now settled in the East Village after a journey that took her to Turkey and around the world, admires her niece’s spirit but worries that she always picks the wrong man. Little does she know that the otherwise honorable Boyd is pulling Reyna into a cigarette smuggling scheme, across state lines, where he could risk violating probation. When Reyna ultimately decides to remove herself for the sake of her four-year-old child, her small act of resistance sets into motion a tapestry of events that affect the lives of loved ones and strangers around them.

A novel that examines conviction, connection, and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki’s beloved Turkish rugs, as colorful as the tattoos decorating Reyna’s body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising and unexpected as the lives all around us. The Boston Globe says of Joan Silber: “No other writer can make a few small decisions ripple across the globe, and across time, with more subtlety and power.” Improvement is Silber’s most shining achievement yet.”

Taken from the publisher’s website:


Why should you read this book?

Improvement by Joan Silber, published in 2017, was my first book by this author. I must admit that what truly caught my eye first was the beautiful cover designed by Counterpoint Press. Once again, I am glad I was seduced by a cover because it did not disappoint. This book is different and Silber’s voice is intriguing. Let me point out that Improvement was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and it was named 1 of 50 Notable Works of Fiction in 2017 by The Washington Post. 

This book starts by telling the story of Reyna, a single mother, who happens to be in a relationship with Boyd, who is at Rikers Island. Kiki, Reyna’s aunt, is also an extremely important character  and has the most interesting past. In my opinion, Kiki is the life of this story and certainly the most appealing part of the novel. The book’s structure is quite singular since it’s built in a very wide temporal and spacial arch. If this book starts by telling a certain event, it will unwind and focus on the aftermath of that specific event. Thus, this plot’s novel will take place in New York City, Virginia, Turkey and Germany. What an amazing way of revising some of the places I’ve been to!

You could think that due to the way this novel is built, it would turn out to be just a sum of its parts. But it’s not. That’s one of the reasons why Silber is an amazing writer. They’re all wonderfully intertwined. The dialogues and the inner reflexions are also brilliant. Among other things, this is a book about the butterfly effect – a notion that really fascinates me. This novel made me walk and read simultaneously. I do it sometimes. But I only do it when I am in love with a book. Joan Silber’s literary work must be known and I can’t believe it took me this long to find her.

I’d like to thank Counterpoint Press for the free copy. You can buy the book here.

“Fierce loyalty. That’s how the Kurds survived for two and a half thousand years while the Hitties and the Phrygians died out. Communal Loyalty.”

Book Details:

Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Published on: November 2017
Format: Hardback
Pages: 256
Price: $26.00

4 stars





One thought on “Improvement by Joan Silber: exploring the butterfly effect

  1. Pingback: July Wrap-Up – Books Turn You On

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