Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

This month I participated  in Everyday I Write The Book‘s Book Club discussion of Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow. It is my first experience with Jones’ writing, though this is her third novel, and I am happy to have found an author whose body of work I would love to explore.  Like many others I was fascinated by the premise, a bigamist and his two families living practically side by side in 1980′s Atlanta.

The novel begins with the decidedly matter of fact admission that James Witherspoon is a bigamist. Readers can only imagine what might follow on the heels of such a statement, and through the narratives of Witherspoon’s daughters’s Dana (by his second wife, Gwen) and Chaurisse (by his legal wife, Laverne), Jones conveys the confusion, curiosity, troubled emotions and heartbreak involved for these girls and their families as they strive to find love in an imperfect situation.

Silver Sparrow is a suspenseful read. Though the “secret” is out of the bag with the first sentence, it does nothing to diminish the intense curiosity readers will have about the lives of these two girls – if and how they might meet. Whether I am able or not, there are few books that I finish in one sitting, and this book is one that I absolutely finished the day I picked it up. There was just no stopping! Jones writes simply and beautifully, and I often had to stop and marvel at how effectively she managed to portray such depth and understanding in her writing. Her style is simply wonderful.

Jones brings an amazing amount of clarity and thoughtful observation to her work and to her characters, who are always rich and complex. Each of the minor characters offered something in the way of movement and understanding to the story while hinting at  richer lives and inner struggles driving them. And the girls! How I felt for Dana and her mother who had always known that they were the other family and the insecurity it caused and the privations they suffered. This did nothing to alter my sympathy for Chaurisse and her mother who had never known there was a family besides their own. No one escapes unscathed.

Silver Sparrow is a complex, wonderful family drama and coming of age story, investing the reader from the start and engaging all the way through its slow implosion of two families who foundations are based in painful deception. Highly recommended.

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