Saturday, May 24, 2008

Review: The Size of the World

The Size of the World by Joan Silber is less a novel than a collection of loosely interconnected short stories – sort of a literary game of tag in which a character in one story has a connection with one, sometimes more, of the characters in the next story.  This structure is gimmicky, but clever. Ultimately, the stories come full circle when the hero of the final “chapter” sells the defective airplane screws that caused the problem that brought the hero of the first “chapter” to Vietnam to solve.

Silber’s writing is graceful and stories are interesting enough to pull a reader through to the end, but the book as a whole lacks depth. Several characters make adventurous choices to live and marry in foreign lands, but the short story structure does not give Silber room to examine the cross-cultural riffs she reveals.  Analysis of the relationships is thin.

Likewise, Silber’s bigger themes are nothing new.  The idea that, while the world may be a big place, people come together by personal connections, is intriguing if not startling.  But the premise that colonialism, corporations, and the military are heartless and bad is a pretty shop-worn formula.  All in all, there is not much to The Size of the World to keep a reader thinking after closing the back cover.


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  1. That's too bad. Sounds like it could have been better. I've picked up a few short story collections and am looking forward to that format for a change. I generally stick with novels. Good short story writing is its own skill.

  2. In general, I prefer novels to short stories, but that is painting with a very broad brush.

    Lately, I've read several books of short stories and enjoyed most of them. In particular, I love P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie and Jeeves stories (who wouldn't?) and W. Somerset Maugham's stories have been sticking with me.

  3. Sorry you didn't enjoy Joan Silber. I had a bit better time with it, but also felt that it read more like a set of short stories than as a novel.

    Thanks for stopping by to visit my blog. I don't always read so many books to prepare a review, but my editor at Open Letters likes reviews that are longer and go well beyond the two parts-synopsis one-part opinion formula. So...what the editor wants....But actually, they are quite fun to write. Here's the link to the final version of my review of Jeanette Winterson's The Stone Gods, in case you're interested.


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