....when first we practice to deceive. Living a lie must be one of the most soul killing things a person can do. The excitement may be sexy and stimulating for a while but the day arrives when you must realize that the walls will come tumbling down. And no, I'm not speaking of that slimey Newt Gingrich.
In this case I'm speaking of the bigamist James Witherspoon who is at the heart and soul of an eminently discussable book that I just finished called Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. Ms. Jones has an impressive array of degrees and awards to her credit yet, once again, I had not heard of her until I caught an interview on the Diane Rehm show. It makes me wonder why women of color aren't always reaching a larger audience, but I guess that's the subject of another blog all together.
This novel is so readable yet so deep in its examination of the hidden knowledge in relationships; what makes them tick, why some last and others don't, how much deception can be overlooked and what has to come to light. You might think that no one could get away with having two complete families, living three miles apart in the same town, but you'd be wrong. In fact, it happened in the little town in Massachusetts where I lived during my own marriage.
James is basically a good man - don't laugh. It's to Jones' credit that she makes no judgements and treats him fairly, even with empathy. His first wife, Laverne, was pregnant at the age of 14. He married her and, with the help of his mother Bunny and his best friend Raleigh, he managed to go into business for himself, work his way up the ladder, buy a home, and provide for his family, especially the love of his life, his daughter Chaurisse.
The only problem is that James was inexorably drawn to Gwendolyn, the mother of his other daughter, Dana Lynn, and didn't have the gumption to give them up, though he only saw them once a week on a "work" night.
Dana and her mother were well aware of Laverne and Chaurisse but, naturally, the reverse was not the case. James and Raleigh could have kept the secret forever if Dana had been a different kind of girl and Gwen had been a woman willing to be satisfied in second place. Tragically, that was not to be.
Jones ratchets up the tension slowly but surely, keeping her readers in a knot of anxiety, turning the pages like a person driving by a car wreck and trying not to look. I really enjoyed the way she put her writing chops on full display by using two very different voices to tell the story.
The first half of the book is Dana's tale. Her voice is bright, sophisticated, and just a little bit devilish as she stalks her sister, torn between desperately wanting a complete family and the love of a sibling with the natural jealousy that would come from having to share her father's love with this stranger.
Chaurisse, too, is a young woman whose loneliness and insecurity cause her to feel overjoyed but suspicious of the attention that Dana suddenly lavishes on her. Not blessed with Dana's good looks and straight A brains, she has to question why this young woman who's on her way to Mount Holyoke College is hanging out with her at her mom's hair salon.
There's so much going on under the surface of this novel, so much to talk about. Women and men, black, white, Asian, whatever....it really doesn't matter, does it? The complications of attraction go back to the beginning of time.
But there's also an especially sensitive look at the plight of African American women in particular. How they feel about themselves, how they're treated in society, what's presumed about them, what their definition of beauty is.
I found Silver Sparrow to be an enlightening, thought provoking read. So much so that it's on my short list for next year's book discussion.