The New York Times Magazine asked me and several other writers and critics–Maud Newton, Laila Lalami, Sam Anderson, Macy Halsford, John Williams, Garth Risk Hallberg–who we would have picked for the Pulitzer this year, given the vacancy. I chose Tayari Jones’ novel Silver Sparrow:
“Silver Sparrow” is the story of a bigamist, his two wives, their daughters and his mother, narrated from the perspectives of the daughters, Chaurisse and Dana. The structure is deceptively simple — first telling one girl’s complete story, then the other’s — but the movement of time is complexly rendered, and the result is a stereoscope trained on America of the 1980s, specifically Atlanta’s black middle class, with roots in Marietta, Ga., in the 1950s. Those communities, and their values, are put in conversation, until what appears is not a simple she-said/she-said story of the grievances of girls forced to share a father but the story of a 14-year-old black girl’s pregnancy in 1958, the forced marriage that resulted and the three generations of shame and heartbreak that followed. Jones offers us a vision of how the problems of her characters belong to us all, in a way that is as much about the sisters as it is about America: who we are as a country and who we want to be.