Island Dwellers - Jen Silverman

Staff Pick

Silverman is already an accomplished playwright and her first collection of short stories is an absorbing exploration of places, relationships, and roles. Set variously in Japan, mainly Tokyo, and throughout the U.S., these pieces feature people who are from elsewhere--South Africa, Colombia, California—and who, having crossed national borders, now wonder about their own personal boundaries. Are they different people in different places? Are they different people when in different relationships? Several recurring characters dramatize these questions, carrying over little but their name from story to story, as if new beginnings are really so easy. Other characters self-consciously behave out of character, finding relief or even a thrill in turning from “nice” to mean, or in hooking up with a man instead of a woman. But such experiments can go too far, and Silverman’s characters worry about “losing” themselves; the gaijin who stay too long in Japan may never be able to find their way out. How can they tell when it’s too late? Silverman’s characters question everything—some to the point of paranoia. But as one observes, in the age of surveillance, what does “paranoia” even mean? Cameras are everywhere, but “are they watching you or are you just being seen?” Where does performance end and true identity begin? Silverman has the utmost compassion for all her wandering, wondering, uncertain characters. In an effort to understand “what made anybody’s details so important,” she looks closely at people’s emotions, reading their lives in their voices and facial expressions. In one recurrent image she notes people “almost holding hands,” subtly and powerfully capturing the loneliness that makes everyone an island dweller, even as we all constantly seek companionship without quite connecting.

The Island Dwellers: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399591495
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House - May 2018

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