Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones

James Witherspoon has two wives in Atlanta, with a daughter by each.  Wife #1, Laverne, and daughter Chaurisse are oblivious to the existence of wife #2, Gwen, and daughter Dana.  Gwen and Dana, however, are fully aware of their secondary status, despite their beauty and intelligence, and frequently sneak clandestine peeks at their rivals.  Meanwhile, James, with the help of his ever-present business partner, Raleigh, is barely maintaining a precarious equilibrium, keeping both households happy and, by all means, separate.  This balancing act teeters toward destruction when Dana and clueless Chaurisse become acquainted, due to Dana's morbid curiosity, coupled with Chaurisse's envy of Dana's looks and attitude.  Both Gwen and Dana realize the dangers inherent to revealing themselves to Laverne and Chaurisse, since James has made it clear that having both families in the same place at the same time is strictly taboo.  For example, James cannot allow Dana to take a summer job at Six Flags, since Chaurisse is planning to work there.  Dana's frustration leaps off the page and drives her to test the boundaries of what she can get away with, where her relationship with Chaurisse is concerned.  In some ways, she is taunting both Chaurisse and James, dropping obvious hints on Chaurisse that should raise suspicion with James when the fallout reaches him.  When circumstances make it virtually impossible to keep their friendship a secret, Dana realizes that she has stepped over the line and does her best to keep the resulting upheaval at bay.  If James's elaborate ruse crumbles, someone will have to pay, and this knowledge, on the part of everyone except the unsuspecting Laverne and Chaurisse, infuses the plot with tension.  Plus, the mention of many Atlanta landmarks brought a nostalgic and knowing smile to my face.

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