When I finished Tayari Jones’s most recent novel, An American Marriage, I was so impressed that I immediately put her previous book, Silver Sparrow, on hold at the library. It, too, is a very good book about people caught up in an impossible situation that is mostly not of their own making. Their situation leads them to make choices that are at times infuriating, but are almost always understandable. I love this kind of complexity.
The story centers on two young black women from Atlanta, sisters, although only one of them knows it. Their father, James, is a bigamist, as we learn in the opening line of the novel. Dana, who narrates the first half of the novel, is the daughter from his secret marriage. She’s smart and ambitious, but she often feel that she gets nothing but the crumbs left over from his other daughter, Chaurisse.
Chaurisse, who takes over the narration in the second half of the book, has her own insecurities. She may be the daughter of two successful entrepreneurs (her father owns a limo business and her mother a beauty salon), but she feels homely and gets left out of most of the social activities around her. She sees Dana as a “silver girl,” shiny and beautiful, and envies them for it.
The book delves into the characters’ family histories, exploring how James ended up married to two women and the fallout of that choice. At times, the layers piled up a bit too much, with timelines merging together in a confusing way, but this is a minor issue. The emotional momentum of the story is always clear. The characterization is where this novel really shines. In American Marriage, the elements of plot, character, and writing come together more seamlessly. But this was still extremely enjoyable.