cover image In My Other Life: Stories

In My Other Life: Stories

Joan Silber. Sarabande Books, $21.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-889330-42-6

Troubled, middle-aged New Yorkers ponder their wild youthful selves and their belated or botched second chances in these 12 accessible, moving tales. Novelist Silber (Household Words; In the City) imagines households of mostly decent, though emotionally scarred, women and men trying to cope with kids, difficult exes or grown siblings. Some of these reflective characters can hardly believe they've outlived their perilous youth. The loquacious narrator in ""Bobby Jackson"" reminisces about his days as a downtown bartender and smack addict (""I was swimming around in fulfilled wishes""). He's survived to become a divorced realtor with a daughter, but fears his pals from the old days have fared far worse. In ""Lake Natasink"" (first published in the New Yorker), Patty and her lover, Charlotte, prepare to move with their adopted baby from New York City to a farmhouse upstate; ""Ordinary"" follows these same three characters to their not-quite-paradisial country life. Here and in the poignant ""Commendable,"" Silber authentically depicts the affections and troubles of unconventional couples, making accurate, sensitive prose look easy. She can also sharply portray dysfunctional couples, or uneasy relationships among exes. Devotees of Alice Munro will find in Silber a simpler take on some of Munro's favorite themes: the revised expectations of middle age; the fading and nuanced traumas of adolescence; the lingering hangover from the hippie era. ""What Lasts,"" a tale of volatile newlyweds, contains some of the book's most striking, skeptical writing, exemplary of the keen, expressive sense of the improbable, of dumb luck and ill luck, and of unlikely recovery that makes Silber's stories so warmly convincing. Agent, Geri Thoma at the Elaine Markson Literary Agency. (May)