cover image Secrets of Happiness

Secrets of Happiness

Joan Silber. Counterpoint, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64009-445-1

A crushing indiscretion comes to light in the sharp latest from National Book Critics Circle Award winner Silber (Improvement). The story is initially narrated by Ethan, a gay Manhattan attorney who discovers his businessman father, Gil, has led a secret double life after Gil is hit with a paternity suit by a Thai woman named Nok. Gil suffers several strokes and decides to recover with his Thai family, and awkward visitations ensue at Nok’s apartment, where Gil calls Nok Abby, Ethan’s mother’s name. The situation’s emotional complexity unfolds and expands through accounts from a diverse range of interconnected narrators, juggled by Silber with uncanny dexterity. In addition to witty and genially confident Ethan, there’s Abby, who now teaches English in Thailand; Ethan’s half brother, Joe, who feels uneasy about the return from Bangkok of his younger brother Jack, whom Joe had recently freed from jail by bribing the police; various characters’ ex-lovers and their exes; a Nepalese film director; and others. These perspectives become an extended family of sorts conjoined by love yet tormented by the past. As more layers peel away across continents, the fallout of Gil’s affair trickles down through Silber’s intricate and emotionally elaborate study of emotional ties. This mesmerizing story of love, lies, and the consequences of betrayal brims with heart and intelligence. (May)