Friday, January 29, 2010

#BookReview: The Untelling - Tayari Jones

The Untelling is a breath of fresh air in a market saturated with street lit passing for real writing. In her second novel, author Tayari Jones introduces us to such fully developed and well articulated characters that the reader is immediately able to visualize them and their surroundings.

As a nine year old, Ariadne Jackson (Aria for short) loses her baby sister and father in a car accident. She also loses her mother and older sister, though they're still alive. The death of her husband has left Aria's mother emotionally unstable and has left her oldest daughter emotionally unavailable. Aria and her sister have always had a close relationship, but shortly after her father's death, Hermione begins to distance herself from Aria.

Determined to get away from her mother's crazy ways, Hermione marries her deceased father's best friend shortly after graduating high school, leaving Aria to fend for herself with a mother that serves raw chicken and overcooked potatoes as punishment. Aria is a survivor and makes her own escape when she graduates a few years later and heads across town to Spelman College.

Beginning life at a school where no one knows her, Aria creates a self-improvement list. In an effort to meet her goal of "being known for something decent," she decides to run for freshman class secretary. When she finds out that her worldly roommate is also seeking the position, she decides not to run, but in the process meets Rochelle Satterwhite. Rochelle is everything Aria is not; poised and confident with supportive parents, and at ease in front of people. Scrapping her plans to run for office, Aria throws her support behind Rochelle, who is running for class president, and barely acknowledges Aria.

To earn money for a data processor, Aria begins working temp jobs and finds herself working in a call center with several older women. She's surprised to see a disheveled and humbled Rochelle working at the same place, seemingly desperate for money. When Rochelle confides in Aria, Aria willingly turns over her paycheck to assist Rochelle and is able to check off two of the goals on her self-improvement list: being known for something decent and making a new friend.

Fast forward a few years and Rochelle and Aria are roommates, working at the same non-profit literacy program and living in a rundown part of town. Rochelle is engaged to be married while Aria dates the dependable locksmith, Dwayne. When her period is late and she begins to experience morning sickness, Aria assumes she's pregnant and Dwayne proposes marriage. This sets in motion reunions with both her sister and her mother.

In meeting with her family members, Aria confronts them about their past actions and their truths, but must also come face to face with her own actions, truths and untruths.

What did you like about this book?
I loved the descriptions of the characters. When Rochelle tells Aria that she looks like Penny from "Good Times," I'm immediately able to picture her. Rochelle is described as prematurely grey with locs and though not a lot of detail is given about her face, I'm able to create a character that in my mind. Even minor characters in the story are fully dimensional, making for a more enjoyable and fully comprehensible read.

What did you dislike about this book?
Nothing. I wouldn't change a thing about it.

How can the author improve this book?
I needed another chapter. Let me be honest, I need another book. I wanted to know what happened to characters when I closed the book. That is truly the sign of a great novel.

336 pp
Published April 2006

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