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256 pages; Counterpoint
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The winner of the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, Joan Silber's brilliant, intimately written fifth novel, Improvement, introduces a host of characters struggling to revamp their lives. Central among them is a free-spirited woman who spent her 20s in Turkey and ends up connected to a variety of other characters in the story. Her niece is a single mother who winds up roped into a cigarette-smuggling scheme that ends in a deadly accident. A truck driver involved in that wreck is trying to sort out his own relationship issues with his wife and his ex-wife. Personal and financial relationships link all the characters, but Silber is also interested in their common dreams: looking to get ahead, getting stable and finding love without falling prey to cynicism and loneliness. Improvement is a relatively short novel, but it has the depth of a book twice its size, with a rich cast of characters you feel fully invested in even if you only get to know them for a page or two.
— Mark Athitakis