Cover image for Ideas of heaven : a ring of stories
Ideas of heaven : a ring of stories
Silber, Joan.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2004]

Physical Description:
250 pages ; 22 cm
My shape -- The high road -- Gaspara stampa -- Ashes of love -- Ideas of heaven -- The same ground.
Electronic Access:
Table of contents
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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An anthology of short fiction explores the issue of human longings and how sex and religion have become parallel forms of comfort and dedication, linking each story with the following by a minor element in one tale that becomes a major theme of the next.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Silber's new collection is indeed a ring, as the subtitle suggests, but one so subtle and delicate in its construction that the connections seem to arise more from fortunate happenstance than deliberate design. The link between the end of the book and the beginning almost requires a re-reading of the first story. A poet mentioned in the second story becomes the subject of the third, and so on, with a pale thread of one story becoming bold colors in the next. The author writes successfully in many voices, women and men, gay and straight, present-day and historic. A matter-of-fact detachment toward affairs of the heart is contrasted with moments of uncontrollable passion. Death can come suddenly, violently, but all can be borne by Silber's sturdy characters. Ideas of Heaven, a story of missionaries in late nineteenth-century China, shows a dedication to accuracy and research. Wonderfully evocative of time and place, this is a collection to be read and savored by all. --Danise Hoover Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Silber's collection is described quite appropriately in the subtitle as "a ring of stories." Each of the six tales works well as a standalone piece, but through subtle commonalities they all weave into one spiraling, interconnected example of fiction. Silber uses the ingenious approach of bringing one character, object, or thought forward into the next story to create a ring of narratives that have no real beginning or end. (By the third story, readers will be trying to guess what aspect will be the connecting factor.) Subjects range from an American expatriate teaching yoga in France to missionaries caught in China's Boxer Rebellion. Loss, religion, spirituality, and sex figure in each of the stories in varying doses and are reflected in the perspectives of each narrator. Silber, a former winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for her first novel (Lucky Us), teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Recommended for all collections, especially those where short stories have a following.-Leann Isaac, Jameson Health Syst., New Castle, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.