Each chapter of Improvement is nearly distinct and complete enough to stand on its own as a short story. Silber excels at quick, sharp portraiture, and there is enough forward momentum in each section to overcome the risk that so much discontinuity will be distancing or distracting. Meanwhile, the framing parts in Reyna’s voice provide contexts and connections to give the novel greater unity and resonance as an exploration of the hopes, pains and small successes of very different people making their uncertain way through life. The resolution does not tie the various pieces together in a climactic way; but the narrative nonetheless falls into place with satisfying elegance.
Improvement is not so much a shaggy dog tale as a shaggy rug one: a Turkish carpet runs through the novel as it extends across decades and countries, a token of each of its owners’ desire to improve his or her lot. The characterisation is fantastic and the dialogue pitch-perfect. The way in which the characters’ lives are connected by threads so narrow as to be almost invisible, and yet which are as strong as steel, is moving and always realistic... All of these are good stories in themselves, but together they form something wonderful. Silber seems to be suggesting that it’s not only things that can be stolen. Love can be a kind of plundering as well; hearts may be looted. One of the joys of this novel is that Silber doesn’t spell things out but assumes intelligence on the part of her reader.