Friday, 20 March 2020

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

'My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist', Tayari Jones begins as she means to go on by immediately dropping us in to the heart of the action with real urgency.

Silver Sparrow is the new and much anticipated novel from Tayari Jones who achieved massive success and critical acclaim with her novel American Marriage (2019). Coming off the back of such a landmark novel was never going to be easy but in Silver Sparrow we are back in the type of domestic drama that Tayari Jones articulates so effortlessly.

For her epigraph, Jones choses a poem by Natasha Tretheway A Daughter is a Colony to set us up for a journey about what it is to be somebody's daughter and, furthermore, to be somebody's secret daughter.  

Like American Marriage, the narrative in Silver Sparrow is told through multiple voices but interesting in this new work is the way two half-sisters, Dana and Chaurisse, tell their own stories. In alternating chapters they tell the historic backstory of how their parents got together as if through their very own experience. 

In concurrent stories of family secrets and deception the girls' own perspective on how they came to be in the world mythologises their father and highlights the heroism and self-curation that exists in the way we tell our own stories. Jones understands the way histories are shared and uses this technique to shine a light on the complicty that exists in bigamous relationships. 

The novel is most successful in exploring the theme of bigamy from the perspective of the women most closely involved, in this case the second wife and 'secret' daughter. The parts in Dana's mother's salon, The Pink Fox, are particuarly immersive into the authentic world Jones creates. 

Convincing messy family drama told with real class. 4 star

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones published by Oneworld Publications 368 pages

Thank you to One World for the advanced review copy and for supplying the below extract from an interview with Tayari Jones.

What was your inspiration for Silver Sparrow?

I have always been intrigued by the idea of half sisters. I have two sisters with whom I share a father, but we each have different mothers. They were born before my father met my mother, and they grew up in another state and led completely separate lives from me and from each other. When I was a little girl, with only brothers, I used to fantasize about having two big sisters far away who would love me, dress me up, listen to me talk, et cetera.

The link between my own personal obsession and this fictional story was inspired quite accidentally. While enjoying a night out with a bunch of friends, we were discussing one of the many cases you hear abouta man dies and the other grieving widow shows up with her stair-step kids. One of my girlfriends looked up from her margarita and said, You know, he had to have some help from the inside. You cannot get local bigamy off the ground unless one of the women is willing to work with you.It was all I could do to keep from running out of the bar to get home and start writ- ing. The first line, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,jumped into my head, as clearly as though someone had spoken into my ear.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

The February Shortlist

The February shortlist....

‘My key works but you won't let me in’
Tayari Jones, 'American Marriage' 5/5

Last month's stack featured award winning fiction from the USA's Tayari Jones, a debut novel from Chinese writer An Yu and a state of the nation tome from Jonathan Coe but first the follow up to The Atocha Station (4 star review here) by Ben Lerner. 

The 10:04 by Ben Lerner
‘Like a poem... neither fiction nor nonfiction, but a flickering between them’. Lerner’s autofiction is addictive but annoyingly slow in places. Mini essays on Whitman and Reagan’s address after the Challenger disaster standout 3/5

Middle England by Jonathan Coe
A well-read romp through life from the 2012 Olympics to the referendum and beyond. Rich observation and wit make for a cosy suburban tonic to McEwan's 'The Cockroach'. Coe fans will meet old characters from 'The Rotters Club' but new fans will find faces they certainly recognise 4/5

American Marriage by Tayari Jones
‘My key works, but you won’t let me in’ A brilliantly crafted story about being the ‘wrong race in the wrong place’. Nuanced, contemporary and relevant 5/5

Braised Pork by An Yu
An Yu’s new novel portrays a young women alienated in Beijing following the unexplained death of her husband. With a debt to Murakami the journey from the city to Tibet is packed with magical realism and late night drinks. Succinct but never curt 5/5