This is the story of a man’s deception, a family’s complicity and the two teenage girls stuck in the middle. James Witherspoon has two families, one public, the other a closely guarded secret. But when his daughters meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows the truth. Theirs is a relationship destined to explode.
A novel centred on the complexities of familial love and the power it has on those around you.
Sometimes we forget just how powerful familial love can be. It’s our first insight to unconditional love and often forms the basis of our understanding of relationships. If all we’ve been shown is pain, lies and heartbreak – what do we expect going forward. Tayari Jones decided to centre familial love around sisterhood but also she delved into the importance of titles when it comes to family – something that was very intriguing to me.
Split into two parts, we hear both sisters describe their complex families along with the pain and deceit that comes with it. Whilst, I liked Dana’s narrative more than I liked Chaurisse. It was still nice to hear both parts of this family despite how different they were. I felt for Dana. A young girl who wanted her father to put her first. It didn’t seem like too much to ask but because of the way their family worked out – it wasn’t possible.
The pace of the novel seemed quite slow at times but Tayari Jones fleshed out the characters rather well. Their development throughout the story changed depending on which sister was the protagonist. We empathised with one character during one part but came to dislike her by the next. And, that’s a skill I can only attribute to talented writing
Tayari Jones focuses on themes of motherhood, love, deceit and family throughout this novel. She interweaves these topics together to create a love triangle made even more complex because of the consequences in the form of children. We then see the detrimental effects this love triangle can have on innocent children who embody the hurt and pain from their parents. A generational pain that is passed down until someone makes the decision to stop.
I think what stood out to me the most from this novel was how Tayari Jones delved into the significance of titles. Something each character at some point was seeking. One mother had the public title of wife whilst for the other it was something she craved. Dana’s mother seemingly craved to be seen as James’ wife because of the respect and sense of belonging that came with it. However, if you look beyond that you can see she was desperate to eradicate the feeling of shame that came with being a secret and a mistress.
The stigma surrounding mistresses are often perpetuated in the media. Whilst, I didn’t always agree with Dana’s mother’s actions, I did feel sorry for her. She was a woman driven by love and a determination to have the stability only a family can provide. She wanted her own happy ending and she took what she could from the father of her child.
If anything it made me wonder, why women carry the shame whilst the men aren’t given the reaction that is deserved. It was James that cheated on his wife but Dana’s mother is made out to be a villain in Chaurisse’s story. And whilst, I can see why – the beauty of two narratives meant that I had seen Dana’s mother through the eyes of her own daughter and had already formed my opinion on her. She wasn’t evil. She was a woman reacting out of love for a man that didn’t respect her enough.
“My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist…”
I mean, what an opening line.
Then again, it became quite clear just how complex this family was. Chaurisse’s mother and James were so interwoven into each other’s lives because of early events that it became clear that one didn’t know how to live without the other. Almost like a security blanket that they could fall back on one another. I understood their relationship but hated how reliant Chaurisse’s mother was on James. But then, it emphasises the importance of being secure in yourself first before you get into a relationship – essentially self-love. Although, Chaurisse’s mother wasn’t able to ever get that chance.
“This is the third time the world tried to make an orphan out of me…God didn’t mean for us to be alone. Can’t you see that?”
The anger and hurt from this love triangle was passed down to their children. Dana’s determination to prove her legitimacy reminded me of her mother’s deliberate actions to be seen as James’ wife. I got the impression she had picked up on the shame that came with being a secret and it made me wonder if adults are ever aware of just how much children can pick up. It became apparent that James didn’t think Dana would ever realise just how hurtful his actions could be.
“He’s your father, but first he is a man. A man is just a man, and that’s all we have to work with.”
From this came a sharp reminder that even though they are adults, they’re still human and they will mess up.
What stood out for me was that when it comes to family there are no winners or losers. If someone gets hurt, it’s a ripple effect that affects the entire family. The original love triangle affected the children that were born from it and we witnessed the after effects from the relationship the sisters had with each other towards the end.
Tayari Jones used this novel as a reminder that family can hurt you and the pain you feel can be ten times worse than anything you can ever imagine. They’re the foundations of which you learn love from and if all you witness is pain, it can leave deep scars within.
However, I loved her meaning behind the title silver sparrow. The idea that titles don’t mean anything when it comes to love. You love because of who is on the inside and that love should be enough. She said she got the title ‘Silver Sparrow’ because God looks after everyone from the biggest elephant to the smallest sparrow. It doesn’t matter what you look like, love is blind to all of that.
In family, love should be blind too. However, once you place titles above love all that will come with it is pain – especially within a complex family like this.
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