‘Fools’ by Joan Silber (2013) – 255 pages
Joan Silber is a writer who can make the people in her stories come vividly alive in just a few pages. I discovered Silber a few years ago when I read her book “Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories” and since then I’ve been on the lookout for her fiction.
“Fools” is a story cycle, a group of lightly interconnected stories. The first story concerns six friends living in Greenwich Village in the 1920s. The other stories relate to these six friends one way or another.
Joan Silber writes about people in the United States you seldom hear about. These are people who feel a social responsibility for the people around them, people who believe their own personal happiness is related to the well-being of those who are less fortunate. In this time of extreme personal greed, it is refreshing to read about folks who are actually concerned about the poor and the outsiders around them.
“I do like life-stories. The deepest ironies are in those lurching shifts people make, bit by bit.” Joan Silber, in an interview with The Millions.
My favorite story here is “The Hanging Fruit”. The story is told by a young guy whose parents run a hotel in Palm Beach in the early 1960s. His romantic life becomes complicated, and one day he steals some money out of his parents’ safe at the hotel and runs off to Paris. He wastes all his money on women and booze, and then his only means of getting any money is playing his clarinet in public places. Later he sobers up and moves to New York and runs a halfway house for men coming out of prison.
“His dating life had scared him about the risks of ending up with someone shrill or cloying or shallow or stupid. I was at the very least none of those things.”
All the stories in “Fools” are rapid reads that cover a lot of ground quickly. Each story is a wide panorama of life. One might wish that each story had fewer characters, less activity, and a shorter time frame. This would allow Joan Silber to go deeper into the individual characters and the separate issues raised by the plot. As it is, the stories fly by in a whirlwind of people and activities leaving little lasting impression on the reader.