Tuesday, May 24, 2011

April Loves This Deftly Drawn Period Piece

With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.

Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters—the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle—she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another’s lives.

At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers—think Toni Morrison with The Bluest EyeJones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.

Listen to the NPR interview with the author.

April says:
"Imagine being five and sitting on your father's knee.  It is a pleasant idea, right?  Now, imagine that your father has just had an argument with your mother about a picture you drew in school of your family, and he has promised to be nice while he explains to you that you are not supposed to draw pictures of your family because that other wife and daughter of your father's don't know you exist.

The picture in question was drawn by Dana Lynn Yarboro, one of the two narrators in Silver Sparrow.  In one section of the picture, Dana has depicted herself, her mother, her father, and her Uncle Raleigh.  In another section, in a very separate part of the page, Dana has drawn Laverne and Chaurisse, her father's legal wife and daughter.

This scene sets the tone and characters for the book perfectly.  Dana is acutely aware of her half-sister while Chaurisse lives an average life in 1980s Atlanta.  It is a period piece that so deftly draws the reader in a time, space, and frame of mind that when one surfaces from Jones' prose it might be hard to draw the line between truth and fiction."

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