Secrets of Happiness

by Joan Silber

Family Drama Literary Fiction

LoveReading Expert Review of Secrets of Happiness

An exploration of life and love, via first-person narratives of two families thrown together from different sides of the tracks

Ethan’s father is outed as a man living a double life with another family on the other, less salubrious, side of New York. Who are they? Certainly nothing like Ethan; this newly-discovered household are Thai, live in Queens and serve and wash dishes at the local Thai restaurant. He, meanwhile, is a lawyer residing in West Village, often found in Katz. 

This discovery introduces us to an ensemble cast and we delve deep into their lives until a bigger picture unfolds. After Ethan we hear from others; some tell us about losing parents, bailing out siblings on the other side of the world, leaving lovers and rekindling old flames. 

Silber is as incise and skewering as Woody Allen, delivering needle-sharp observation that we associate with the best American writers. But it’s the ghost of Charles Dickens who’s really flickering on the margins and Silber takes on his themes of family inheritance, class and wealth to underpin her characters’ search for happiness. 

Julie Vuong

Secrets of Happiness Synopsis

One of O: The Oprah Magazine's O Mag's Most Anticipated Books of 2021 One of Publishers Weekly's Top 10 picks for Spring 2021

Ethan, a young lawyer in New York, learns that his father has long kept a second family - a wife and two kids living in Queens. In the aftermath of this revelation, Ethan's mother spends a year travelling abroad, returning much changed, just as her now ex-husband falls ill. 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 struck about love and money continue to shape all their lives.

As Ethan finds himself caught in a love triangle of his own, the interwoven fates of these two households elegantly unfurl to touch many other figures, revealing secret currents of empathy and loyalty, the bounty of improvised families and the paradoxical ties that weave through life's rich contours. With a generous and humane spirit, Secrets of Happiness elucidates the ways people marshal the resources at hand in an effort to find joy.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9781911630081
Publication date: 5th August 2021
Author: Joan Silber
Publisher: Allen & Unwin an imprint of Atlantic Books
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 288 pages
Primary Genre Family Drama
Other Genres:

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Joan Silber Press Reviews

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

Sometimes the dexterity and plenitude of Silber's plotting take your breath away, or make you want to laugh. Why isn't there more fiction like this? ... why isn't there more fiction that's such a pleasure to read, simply because of its clarity, wisdom, heart, and elegance? Secrets of Happiness feels like a benchmark, a guiding star, a minimum height requirement; I'd like to say I will never again settle for fiction that's not as good as this, but I know I will have to. -- Nick Hornby - The Believer

As usual, with Secrets of Happiness the magnificent Joan Silber manages to make great writing look absolutely effortless. A warm, smart, seductive, hugely satisfying novel. -- Sarah Waters

Secrets of Happiness is a swim in cool, clear water in which the contours and colours of all experience are magnified, purified, intensified. Joan Silber's translucent, morally attentive prose does something to the vision as well as the spirit: if you can look up from it, you'll find your own world altered - rinsed clean, and luminous. -- Charlotte Wood, author of THE WEEKEND

These stories unfurl with such verbal verisimilitude that they're like late-night phone calls from old friends. Every imperative page trips along with the wry wisdom of ordinary speech - the illusion of artlessness that only the most artful writers can create. -- Ron Charles - Washington Post

Rich with the complexities of life . . .Pull any life's thread and you discover a mesh of involvement that soon takes in all the others. It is a fine thing, subtly done, and truly exhilarating. - Wall Street Journal

Few make fiction feel as exciting as Silber - and not in plot, but mere structure. Characters impact one another. Tones shift with perspective. Scenes build with profound scope . . . This latest novel feels like vintage Silber: stories interlinked with the confidence of Elizabeth Strout, but all their own mood and power. - Entertainment Weekly

If E.M. Forster hadn't already scooped up Only connect as the epigraph for his novel Howards End, Joan Silber would have the perfect fit for it. In fact, Silber deserves it a little more...Silber's knack for inhabiting far-flung realities is remarkable...Secrets of Happiness pays the best kind of attention to its characters' desires, dilemmas and, of course, connections. - Seattle Times

The author of the award-winning Improvement once again takes her scalpel to the complex anatomy of family, dissecting, with stunning precision, one young New Yorker's struggles with his father's secret life, the toll of deceits that doom a marriage, and the pitfalls of his own sexuality. - O, The Oprah Magazine

A new novel in stories from the master of the form...[E]choes 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

I never wonder more at how little we know about how greatly we factor in other people's lives than I do when reading Silber at her best. She aims, in increments, at the ecstatic...Capable of ecstasy, this time Silber delivers merely something humane, elegant and wise. -- Joshua Ferris - New York Times Book Review

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781911630081
Publication date: 05/08/2021
Format: Hardback

ISBN: 9781911630890
Publication date: 05/08/2021
Format: Paperback

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About Joan Silber

Joan Silber is the author of eight books of fiction. Her previous book, Fools (2013), was longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Other works include The Size of the World (2008), Ideas of Heaven (2004), Lucky Us (2001), In My Other Life (2000), In the City (1987) and Household Words (1980), winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award. She is also the author of The Art of Time in Fiction (2009). In 2018 she received the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in the short story. She lives in New York and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and in the Warren Wilson MFA ...

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