The Untelling by Tayari Jones
I’ve been reading Tayari’s Blog for over two years now. IIRC, I found it through a guest post she had made at another blog. Tayari’s published two novels (The Untelling is her second) and is working on a third. Leaving Atlanta is her first novel. She teaches creative writing, and is currently assistant professor at Rutgers-Newark (she moves around a lot!).
Tayari’s blog is one of my favorites. It’s a great writing-about-writing blog. But extra-appealing because she’s my age and is doing the academic thing, too. I’ve wanted to read her novels since I started reading it. So what took me so long? Well, apparently bookstores here don’t carry them :-S (I haven’t seen Laila Lalami‘s Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits either). Yes, I could have ordered from Amazon or Chapters. But my to-read bookshelf is already overflowing (because I have no resistance when I see a book I want in person) without also ordering books online (where would it stop?!). I tell myself I can buy books online if I whittle down the to-read pile, but just when I think I’m getting there, I go on a used bookstore (or remainder table) spree and eek! it’s overflowing again. (Oh, but you know I wouldn’t have it any other way.)
Anyhow, happily I did stumble across The Untelling in The Book Shop this summer and of course snapped it up. The Untelling‘s mc is Ariadne (called Aria). When Aria was not-quite 10, her family was in a car accident in which her father and baby sister died. Unsurprisingly, this tragedy has affected Aria enormously, and her relationships with her mother and her older sister continue to be strained. In the now of the story (mid-’90s), Aria is in post-university limbo. She’s 25, living with her best friend Rochelle in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood (starting to be gentrified, but not quite there yet), and teaching literacy to people studying for their GEDs. Rochelle is engaged and will soon move out. Aria daydreams about her boyfriend Dwayne moving in when Rochelle moves out, even though Dwayne doesn’t like the neighborhood.
And then she tells people something that turns out not to be true. She thinks it’s the truth; only later she finds out she is mistaken and must figure out how to “untell” it. This is complicated by why she was mistaken and the post-traumatic stress and guilt she’s still suffering from. (I know that’s a little vague, but I’m trying not to be spoilerish.)
One thing I really liked about reading this was seeing so many things Tayari has mentioned in her blog pop up in the story. For example, she’s written about having this word processor—one of those typewriter-like devices that saved a few lines so you could check your typing before the words actually went on the page—and one of those shows up in the story. (One of the girls on my residence floor in first year had one—was v. jealous at the time. Haha!)
Now I want to read Leaving Atlanta.