‘Ashes of Love’ by Joan Silber

I first read this, from Silber’s book of linked stories, Ideas of Heaven, as a young student of hers at Sarah Lawrence College. Narrated by a former world traveler reflecting on decades of life, the story brims with the kind of wisdom and perspective that can only come from experience. At 22, I knew such prose, powered by hindsight, was way out of reach for me. It made me yearn to survive the kinds of both joys and losses captured here, and to achieve the capacity to write about them with grace Silber does. The narrator recalls his romance with Peggy, a charismatic, difficult woman, who continually upends the equanimity he is seeking. This is one of those short stories that somehow manages to contain a lifetime without feeling crowded. We follow the main characters’ adventures, their peaks and valleys, and the coming of age of the son they share. Amid all the memories the narrator sifts through here, the mystery of what draws people together and wrenches them apart remains. 

From Ideas of Heaven, Norton, 2005

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