cover image IDEAS OF HEAVEN: A Ring of Stories

IDEAS OF HEAVEN: A Ring of Stories

Joan Silber, . . Norton, $23.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-393-05908-3

Big ideas come in lovely small packages in this collection by Silber (Lucky Us , etc.). Six elegantly connected stories explore, through first-person narratives, the conflicts and commonalities of love, faith and sex. A minor character in the first story becomes the narrator in the second, and so on, with each story building on its predecessor until they come full circle. Alice, a flighty American would-be dancer, struggles with her body and the difficult men in her life in "My Shape"; Duncan, an embittered gay dancer (and one-time teacher of Alice) describes embarrassment, heartbreak and the comforts of renunciation in "The High Road." In "Gaspara Stampa," the titular 16th-century Italian poet narrates her torturous love affairs and the art she makes of them; in "Ashes of Love," an ex-hippie and world traveler, whose capricious wife left him to raise their troubled son, later tries to balance his attentions between the boy and his new, younger lover. In the title story, a missionary's wife in turn-of-the-century China tells of learning to live in a foreign world and faces death during the Boxer Rebellion. Each of Silber's narrators reflects on his or her shifting fortunes with the calm wisdom of hindsight, without diminishing the power of immediate experience. Silber uses the device of interwoven narratives beautifully; these lengthy stories can stand alone, but the subtle connections and emotional resonances help create a satisfying structural unity. Silber's wise, compassionate chronicles of longing, devotion and the search for comfort, both spiritual and physical, will move readers to contemplation and delight. Agent, Geri Thoma. (Apr.)

Forecast: The dreamy interconnectedness of Silber's stories is elegantly hinted at in the lovely cover art. Booksellers can confidently recommend this collection to readers who don't normally gravitate to short stories, and expect Silber's audience to grow.