A Rare and Delectable Read?
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This book got reviewed by the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, and even by the Wallstreet Journal. I don’t know about you, but if it’s Ron Charles doing the review for the Washington Post or Maureen Corrigan doing it for NPR, I sit up and take notice. These are indeed the reviewers of Silber’s book. All of this says a lot! But in my mind, it must be saying something about the author and not necessarily this specific book. Translation: I liked the book, but did not love it.
The New York Times review by Joshua Ferris, describes what he calls Joan Silber’s signature style, a relay narrative. “Silber gets things up and running with one character, telling his or her story to its fullest, before leaping into a wholly different life and telling all about it. These narratives are often richly rewarding on their own, but more sublime is what can fall out between any two accounts: some devastating misunderstanding or easily missed opportunity that, heartbreaking as it might be for the characters, rewards the reader with a rare, delectable irony.”
Secrets of Happiness does indeed contain a relay narrative. The book has seven chapters and six different first-person narrators. The first and last chapters feature the same character, Ethan. To give you a flavor for what happens – without many spoilers – let me tell you about the first three narrators.
Ethan is a gay lawyer who is in his thirties and lives in New York. He finds out that his father – who has always traveled a lot for business – actually has a second family, also living in New York. Next, we meet Joe, who is one of Ethan’s half-brothers. That’s all pretty straight forward. But Joe has a friend named Veronica who is married to a wealthy man named Schuyler, who has a mistress named Maribel. Maribel is the third narrator. Ultimately, she will work for someone who has a small connection to Ethan’s father. Thus, while there are connections between the various narrators some of them are remote. And I’ll confess, I did not feel any “rare and delectable irony” by books end.
What I did find was a lot of people talking about happiness, the connection between love and money, the various financial systems of the world, and travel to Southeast Asia. The New York Times and Washington Post thought the book was about happiness. NPR discusses it under a heading of “The Big Romantic Bargains We Strike in the Name of Love.” The Wall Street Journal approached it from the standpoint of greed. The reader will find all of these elements.
It all makes for an interesting read – but not a rare or delectable one.
Click here to learn more about Secrets of Happiness.