Tayari Jones's first novel, LEAVING ATLANTA, was a sensitive tale of children growing up during the Atlanta child murders, told from their perspective. The children of her second novel THE UNTELLING, also set in Atlanta, are all grown up and living with the scars of childhood. This time the story is told from the viewpoint of Ariadne Jackson, who likes to be called Aria, a woman in her twenties whose life was shaped by the death of her father and infant sister when she was a young girl. The deaths changed the surviving members of the family, Aria, her mother and her sister Hermione.
After the accident, Aria and Hermione's mother becomes a cruel and unpredictable parent whose irrational behavior forces Hermione out of their lives. Both women have strained relationships with her as adults.
At the beginning of the novel Aria realizes she is pregnant and decides the unexpected child is good news. She is nauseous but hopeful that once she tells her boyfriend he will become her fiancé and they'll marry. Yet she makes the mistake of sharing her good news with someone else first. When she does tell Dwayne, he is true to her vision of him and proposes. Though Aria is sad she won't have the kind of elaborate, non-pregnancy-induced wedding that her roommate Rochelle is planning, she is happy with Dwayne.
Then terrible news changes everything for her and, though he doesn't know it, Dwayne. Aria decides to withhold the devastating information from Dwayne and desperately works to keep up the lie. As she tries to salvage their future with lies, she tears down any hope of their happiness.
The strength of Tayari Jones's writing is that she can tell this story, a much simpler one than LEAVING ATLANTA, in such a compelling way. She captures the nuances of emotion that Aria experiences along the path to her personal tragedy and her self-inflicted descent into heartbreak.
Along the way Jones allows the girl Aria to surface and show how deeply the accident that took her father and sister scarred the mother and surviving sisters. It is a hard story to forget. And that's as it should be.
Reviewed by Bernadette Adams Davis on January 24, 2011