Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was one of the books I ordered from Amazon:
(You’ll see I also bought Leaving Atlanta, her first novel. I’ve been saving that one.)
I was eager to read this (too eager to wait for it show up in my usual haunts) because I followed its entire progress from tentative first drafts to book tour on Tayari’s blog. I poked through her archives to see if I could find where she first mentions it. I think this is it:
Today, I sat down to work on my new novel after three weeks on the road. This novel feel alive within me. I think about it when I lie down at night. I have to force myself to sleep and the only way I can do that is to remind myself that I have to sleep to do any decent writing in the morning. So, this is good. I don’t quite know what to do with myself when I am not working on a project.
That was May 29, 2005. Silver Sparrow was published May 24, 2011.
Let’s just pause for a moment and let that sink in.
Do you find it disheartening? I don’t. Everyone’s so impatient these days sometimes I think we’ve forgotten how long it can take to do good work.
Silver Sparrow was originally called The Bigamist’s Daughters. Later it was called The Silver Girl. I can’t remember why the first change was made, but the second one was a last-minute change because another book called Silver Girl was due to launch around the same time. So it was a marketing decision by her publisher. Initially, she was unhappy about this (who wouldn’t be?) but she ended up being happier with the final title. So you never know! It’s good to be flexible.
The premise is that one man marries two different women. He doesn’t do it for any sort of nefarious reason; it’s more like he feels it’s the right thing to do (vs. the usual alternatives). He has one daughter with each wife, and the girls are basically the same age—born a few months apart. His first wife and daughter (Chaurisse) know nothing about his second family. His second wife and daughter (Dana Lynn) do know about his first family. In the beginning, the sisters don’t know each other, but that changes as the story progresses.
Aside: I kept going Day-na? Dan-ah? throughout, but in this conversation she has with Judy Blume, I believe she says Day-na.
The first part of the book is told from Dana’s pov; the second part from Chaurisse’s pov. This switch really shakes you out of your comfort zone and is very effective in this particular story. Just when you’re really comfortable with Dana and her perspective on the situation, you’re asked to identify instead with Chaurisse, and think about how she feels about it.
The main thing about this book is that everyone is shown with empathy. Everyone is flawed, but no one is demonized, portrayed as the “bad guy.” It’s more about how people get caught up in circumstances and how they deal with it. I liked that she didn’t try to tie everything up neatly or make everything right at the end. She’s a real storyteller, I think.
On a more trivial note, I really love that the Dana/Chaurisse parts of the book are set in the eighties. It’s fun seeing what parts of that eighties high school experience were universal. I’ve been scooped on the appearance of electric blue liquid eyeliner (I had a friend I literally never saw without hers from 7th grade—when I first met her—until the morning after our grad party. I almost didn’t recognize her.) and feathered roach clips (but did they get them from the carnies at the fall fair?). Still going to use that detail, though. In my high school, the store chicks always wore them clipped to their store-chick purses. Classic.
I used to quote from Tayari’s blog all the time. She hasn’t been blogging as much recently, which I understand, she’s only doing like a million different things and something has to give, but I miss it. On the bright side, I still have Leaving Atlanta to read.
By the way, the book she was on the road publicizing when she started Silver Sparrow was The Untelling, which I wrote about here.