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Vera, the shy, anarchist daughter of missionary parents, leaves her family for love and activism in New York. A generation later, her own 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 takes up with a young woman and finds himself outsmarted in turn. Fools ponders the circle of winners and losers, dupers and duped, and the price we pay for our beliefs.
Fools is a luminous, intelligent, and rewarding work of fiction from the author for whom the Boston Globe said, "No other writer can make a few small decisions ripple across the globe, and across time, with more subtlety and power.""
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-03-04
- Reviewer: Staff
This tightly constructed collection from Silber (Ideas of Heaven) shows her talents at their finest. The stories pivot nimbly from the foibles of young anarchists in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century, in “Fools,” to a spoiled young man’s comeuppance in Paris in the early ’60s, to a nonprofit development worker’s attempt to solicit money from a potential donor in the present. In “Two Opinions,” Louise, the young married daughter of the narrator from “Fools,” stays in New York when her husband goes to Japan for work. Rather than despair at what becomes an extended separation, Louise creates her own happiness. Self-discovery many years too late is a recurring theme. In “Going Too Far,” middle-aged Gerard doesn’t realize until after 9/11 that his heart still belongs to his ex-wife, now a convert to Islam eager to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. And in “Better,” Marcus, reeling from a breakup with his boyfriend, finds possibilities for picking himself back up, in a memoir written by one of the anarchists from “Fools.” Though they make bad choices and exhibit a multitude of faults, Silber’s characters display wonderfully lifelike vulnerability and complexity. Agent: Geri Thoma, Marson Thoma. (May)
The necessity and foolishness of belief
When does an idea become a conviction, love become an obsession, interest become a passion? When do we shift from engagement to foolish fixation? In the six connected stories of her new collection Fools, Joan Silber—whose 2005 linked story collection, Ideas of Heaven, was a National Book Award finalist—tackles these questions head-on, uncovering the price we pay for our beliefs, our attractions and our ideals.
Religious belief, politics and the pursuit of money are tangled up in this collection. In the opening title story, Vera, raised by Christian missionaries in India, turns to politics and finds a place in the lively bohemian and anarchist circles of Greenwich Village in the 1920s. Five decades later, in “Better,” a gay man in the midst of a breakup finds solace in a memoir of Village life written by one of Vera’s friends and in the teachings of Gandhi. The spirits of Gandhi and Dorothy Day (founder of the Catholic Workers), two idealistic individuals who lived out their principles, are never far from these stories.
Silber’s characters are also fools for love. Vera finds herself drawn to Forster, a member of their social circle, and is unable to hide the attraction from her husband. In “Different Opinions,” Vera’s daughter Louise remains in New York after her husband takes a job in Japan, determined to live a separate life but not willing to divorce. In “Going Too Far,” a young man, superficially attracted to dharma talks and meditation groups, marries a woman he meets at a Sufi concert and then is alienated as she is gradually drawn wholly into the practices of mystical Islam.
Each story in Fools is as satisfyingly dense as a novel, and the links between them are subtle and elegant, never forced. Silber’s characters are open to the lure of ideas, wealth and passion, even when they lead to despair—or at least uncomfortable circumstances. Though their actions may be reckless, their convictions are not. The stories sweep through time and place, but the carefully accumulated details and the characters’ vulnerabilities ground them in a way that is as authentic and foolish as life itself.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE
Read a Q&A with Joan Silber for Fools.