I recently read An American Marriage, a New York Times Bestseller and Oprah Book Club pick by Tayari Jones, and, immediately upon finishing it, I started searching for another book by Jones. I discovered Silver Sparrow, which I had only briefly heard about on a book podcast I listen to. I think I loved Silver Sparrow even more than An American Marriage, which is really saying something.
The opening line of the book gives away the plot: “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” The first half of the book is told from the perspective of Dana, James’ oldest daughter. She is the secret daughter of his secret wife, Gwen. Throughout the book, we learn how James, a married man, comes to marry Gwen and bring Dana into the world. It’s heartbreaking reading about the longing Dana and her mother have for more of James in their lives. They are well-aware that, despite James’ insistence that everything is “equal” between Dana and her half-sister, things are anything but equal. Dana and her mother spend Dana’s childhood secretly “surveiling” James’ first wife and her daughter from a distance. Dana loves her father, but she knows she will always be second place.
Reading the first half of the book, we only see things from the perspective of Dana and her mother, but, in the second half of the book, we are introduced to life through James’ daughter, Chaurisse’s, eyes. Chaurisse is James and his first wife, Laverne’s, daughter, and neither mother nor daughter are aware of Gwen and Dana’s existence. Through Chaurisse, we see the other side of the equation. I couldn’t help but dislike Chaurisse and Laverne a little bit when I read about them from Dana’s perspective, but, in the second half of the book, I began to care about them and their lives, too.
I think that’s the remarkable thing about this book. Jones does a fantastic job of presenting three groups of people—Gwen and Dana, Chaurisse and Laverene, and James and his best friend, Raleigh—and causing the reader to genuinely care about each of them. All of these characters make bad decisions throughout the book, yet their stories are told with such authenticity that the reader can’t help but sympathize with them. The circumstances that lead to their faulty decisions soften the reader’s heart and help us respond with compassion, even when the result of the characters’ decisions are disastrous.
Throughout the book, it seems as if Dana and Chaurisse are on an inevitable course toward crashing into each other, living in the same area of Atlanta in the 1980s. What we don’t know is what the result of that crash will be. This book is a page-turner! I read most of it over the course of a slow, summer Sunday. I honestly couldn’t put it down. It was beautiful and compelling. I highly recommend it!
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.
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