I’m continuing my reading of “best of the year” titles, this time from Library Journal.
“Silver Sparrow” by Tayari Jones begins with a fabulous first sentence, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.”
The novel is told by Witherspoon’s two daughters, both growing up in Atlanta in the 1980s.
The first section is told by Dana Lynn Yarboro. She is the “outside daughter.” Her mother knew from the start that Witherspoon was married to someone else. As she approached Dana’s birth, she and Witherspoon went across the state line and married. Dana grows up feeling herself second best, watching her mother work hard to ensure that Witherspoon provide well for Dana, sometimes “surveiling” the other wife and daughter. Dana begins to engineer ways to interact with her half-sister.
The second section is told by Chaurisse Witherspoon, that half-sister who is just four months younger than Dana. Chaurisse grows up not knowing about the other family. In contrast to Dana and her mother, Chaurisse and her mother consider themselves plain. Chaurisse’s story begins to include Dana, who Chaurisse describes as a “silver girl,” someone who is pretty and presents herself stylishly, someone different from Chaurisse. Inevitably, trouble happens with the two, and the secret family comes into the light.
The third and final short section returns to Dana, as an adult with a baby girl of her own. Chaurisse has “surveiled” her, and they have a brief conversation that reveals that the two are no longer connected. And yet it is clear, they will always be connected.
I enjoyed this as an old-fashioned story, told in a straightforward way. I liked how Jones included much about the working lives of the adults in the story, and her picture of African American middle class culture of the 1980’s. She develops these characters well, makes them distinct from each other, even as they all revolve around the one man, James Witherspoon. She explores themes of friendship, family, secrets, and love.
I’ve noted previously that often I’m impatient in “braided story” novels because I end up finding one person much more compelling than another. In this case, I found both girls equally interesting.
I’ll recommend this to people who enjoy novels about regular people reacting to crazy events. It’s a perfect book group choice, with so many secrets to explore and people to analyze.