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Secrets of Happiness (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Joan Silber writes about the human condition in glorious ways that makes even the flawed beautiful. The families in Secrets of Happiness love and hate, uplift and tear down, relish and resent each other with conviction. How well do we know those closest to us? And what good comes when secrets are revealed? This is brilliant fiction.

— Rachel Watkins


When a man discovers his father in New York has long had another, secret, family—a wife and two kids—the interlocking fates of both families lead to surprise loyalties, love triangles, and a reservoir of inner strength.

Ethan, a young lawyer in New York, learns that his father has long kept a second family—a Thai wife and two kids living in Queens. In the aftermath of this revelation, Ethan's mother spends a year working abroad, returning much changed, as events introduce her to the other wife. Across town, Ethan's half brothers are caught in their own complicated journeys: one brother's penchant for minor delinquency has escalated, and the other must travel to Bangkok to bail him out, while the bargains their mother has struck about love and money continue to shape their lives.

As Ethan finds himself caught in a love triangle of his own, the interwoven fates of these two households elegantly unfurl to encompass a woman rallying to help an ill brother with an unreliable lover and a filmmaker with a girlhood spent in Nepal. Evoking a generous and humane spirit, and a story that ranges over three continents, Secrets of Happiness elucidates the ways people marshal the resources at hand to forge their own forms of joy.

About the Author

JOAN SILBER is the author of nine books of fiction. Her last book, Improvement, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award and was listed as one of the year’s best books by The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, The Seattle Times, and Kirkus Reviews. Her previous book, Fools, was long-listed for the National Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Other works include The Size of the World, finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and Ideas of Heaven, finalist for the National Book Award and The Story Prize. She lives in New York, has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA program.

Praise For…

An O, The Oprah Magazine Most Anticipated Book of Next Year
Library Journal Title to Watch

"Secrets of Happiness unfolds across families and lovers, across time and expectations, across the country and across the world, and the bigger it gets, the more it shows how deeply connected we are. Joan Silber writes with a frankness and freshness that draws the reader closer with every page. It would be impossible to overstate just how good this book is."   —Ann Patchett

"Joan Silber is a masterful writer of multifaceted characters in complex relationship dynamics . . . Her new novel follows a man harboring a secret—he's leading two lives, part of two families—and the impact of his deception radiates far beyond him." —Arianna Rebolini, Buzzfeed, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year

"Silber moves easily in and out of her characters’ heads; the novel is deceptively airy, yet, given a reflective reading, it has an ethical center without the shortcut of easy morality. Silber’s fans, and readers who enjoy smart, humane contemporary fiction that doesn’t talk down to them, will enjoy this work." —Library Journal

"A new Joan Silber book is always a reason to celebrate. Her latest is the story of a family—two families—exploding after a years-long infidelity comes to light, told in intersecting, polyphonic voices, like a tapestry of those affected." —Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year

"This complex, intergenerational novel spans three continents as it reveals the connection between the two families, no longer secret to each other." —The Millions, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year

"A new novel in stories from the master of the form . . . Silber's storytelling is so artful [and] so filled with humor and aperçus . . . Echoes the great Grace Paley, to whom Silber is so close in spirit and voice. While Paley was an all–New York gal, Silber makes faraway places seem familiar—oh, for the time when we can work on knowing the world even one-tenth as well as she does.These secrets of happiness really will make you happy, at least for a few sweet hours." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 

"The complex seesaw of love and finances, both offered and withheld, is explored throughout seven chapters and across four continents. Silber’s device—a secondary character from one chapter commanding the narrative in the next—is as effortless as a dragonfly skimming over a pond . . . Secrets of Happiness also explores the great generosity of love that exists in families, whether we’re born into them or choose them. Rarely is a novel of moral ideas so buoyant in spirit or so exquisitely crafted." —Lauren Bufferd, BookPage (starred review)

"[An] intricate and emotionally elaborate study of emotional ties. This mesmerizing story of love, lies, and the consequences of betrayal brims with heart and intelligence." —Publishers Weekly

Praise for Improvement:

"This is a novel of richness and wisdom and huge pleasure. Silber knows, and reveals, how close we live to the abyss, but she also revels in joy, particularly the joy that comes from intimate relationships . . . [A] perfectly balanced mix of celebration and wryness." —The New York Times Book Review
"Joan Silber's quietly brilliant novel Improvement weaves an intricate, zigzagging pattern out of the lives of a dozen people, and six well-chosen narrators provide the voices . . . The multiplicity of voices in this production gives a wonderful aural dimension to the weave of inadvertently interlocked lives." —The Washington Post
Product Details
ISBN: 9781640094451
ISBN-10: 1640094458
Publisher: Counterpoint
Publication Date: May 4th, 2021
Pages: 288
Language: English