It will be difficult to write about this remarkable book without including any spoilers. Part of what is impressive is the way Jones makes the secret of the story evident from the beginning. Dana, the first narrator, says, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist” (3). Dana herself is an ‘outside child.’ The difference between her and James’ more public daughter is that Dana knows about her, while she knows nothing of Dana.
The question of whether the secret will be revealed seems less crucial to the story than how and with what consequences. And the scene that marks the beginning of the end is rendered by Jones with remarkable precision and tension. I think I read the whole part while I was holding my breath. I identified most with Raleigh who is desperately trying to protect everyone including himself – a task that he knows is impossible.
Jones’ prose is stunning in its precision, particularly in her attention to the creation of the two main voices and dialogue. Dana says of her mother, “The truth is a coin she pulls from behind your ear” (5). Though early in the story, I had to pause to drink that one in. Miss Bunny says, “I never had no quarrel with the truth” (132), a sentiment that resonates throughout the novel. Dana again: “It was not the first time I had seen my mother cry, but the experience troubled me in the pit of myself” (149). Who doesn’t know that pit? Responding to a difficult question from Dana, James says, “We didn’t talk so much about Gwen” (126). Imagine that line without the word ‘so.’ James’ character and his internal conflicts reside in that ‘so.’
In the end, Jones brings her story to a remarkable and realistic close. Everyone has been forced to grow up, to compromise. I was so completely in this world that when I turned the page in anticipation of more story but found the Acknowledgments page instead, I was disappointed indeed. Upon reflection, though, her ending is as right as the rest of her book.