Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Review: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

As most all book readers know, Borders is going out of business. If your local Borders hasn't closed its doors yet, then it is inevitable that they will close soon. With 8 days left, my local borders has marked down books as much as 80%! I stopped by yesterday, as I have been doing once a week since Borders announced the closing, and browsed with a heavy heart. I'm sad to see it go and not just because it is the closest book store to me. I just hate to see the decline of such a staple. Who doesn't love a book store?

Unable to resist such deals, I picked up a few books and Silver Sparrow was one of them. The extend of my knowledge of the book came only from the couple times I'd come across while perusing Amazon. But when I saw it sitting there, stating at me, so pretty a cover at a fraction of the original price, I snatched it off the shelf and went to check out.

It turned out to be a great impulse buy.

My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist. He was already married ten years when he first clamped eyes on my mother.

So begins Silver Sparrow.

Set in Atlanta during the 1980's Silver Sparrow tells the story of sisters, four months apart, Dana Lynn Yarbaro and Chaurisse Witherspoon, their father, James Witherspoon and their mothers Gwendolyn and Lavern.The story is told in two parts, starting with with Dana's first person narrative and then Chaurisse takes up the second half. The narratives, just like the girls, couldn't be more different.

Dana with her pretty looks and wise beyond her years demeanor is very much the product of living her whole life knowing that she was a secret and that her father had another wife and daughter that lived in the same city as she and her mother. Her matter of fact voice, frankly details the coming together of her parents, revealing how it came to be that her already married father ended up marrying her mother years later. There is a sadness to Dana that grips you through the pages. Her tough on the outside facade is a cover for the internal turmoil she struggles with. It is apparent in the first few pages that Dana, though her father's first daughter, feels second best in his heart.

In my mind, Chaurisse is his real daughter. With wives it only matters who gets there first. With daughters, the situation is a bit more complicated.

It would seem that with daughters it only matters if they were born to the first wife and in Chaurisse's case she reaped the benefits of being the daughter of James' first and real wife. Chaurisse, plain and plump is naive and almost innocent in her narrative. She and her mother are both ignorant of her father's double life. He has always been a loving father to her and a good husband to her mother. The bitterness that tinges Dana's narrative is nowhere to be found in Chaurisse's. She is less frank and more self deprecating, seen quite clearly in her description of her parents and in essence, herself.

If you saw them walking down the street, if you noticed them at all, you would think the two of them might produce invisible children.

If Chaurisse is invisible, she is that to everyone but Dana, who sees her in a way that she doesn't see herself. To Dana, Chaurisse has it all. A house, a family, but mostly, their father. She gets the recognition that Dana never has. She is able to go out with their father and be claimed publicly by him. She unknowingly gets first billing with everything, from what camp she can attend to what job she can have. If Dana happened to be accepted to something that Chaurisse had been also, Dana couldn't go. If Dana and Chaurisse got a job at the same place, Dana had to not accept. Their father, so bent on keeping his second life a secret, had forbid Dana from ever going anywhere near Chaurisse.

Due to the constant slights, an inevitable bitterness grows within Dana and she rebels, doing exactly everything her father has ever kept her from doing.

Silver Sparrow is a truly gripping novel. I sat down to read it early yesterday afternoon and finished it before sundown. Jones' writing is so crisp and readable that the pages seemed to turn themselves. I was completely engrossed in Dana and Chaurisse's lives and I was hopeful that somehow they would be able to make something good out of the mess they'd inherited.

The characterization is rich yet simplistic. The characters are not overdone, they quietly manifest through their actions and effortless writing. The premise of bigotry was taken on in a way that I haven't seen represented before. This is no Big Love where everyone is one big happy family. This has no religious backing. It is simply bad decision making and deceit. Tayari Jones took on the topic of bigotry and gave it a face, a family, and two innocent sisters. I enjoyed every minute of it.


Post a Comment