THE UNTELLING by Tayari Jones


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Thin second novel by Jones (Leaving Atlanta, 2002), who follows the hapless love affair of a young, infertile African-American woman in Atlanta.

It opens promisingly, with narrator Ariadne’s taut recounting of the horrific car accident in 1978 that took the lives of her father and infant sister. But Jones goes on to superficially treat Aria’s disappointing love affair at age 25 with locksmith Dwayne. The crux of the “untelling” is Aria’s fear of revealing to Dwayne, who has proposed because he thinks she’s pregnant, the devastating news she has received from her doctor: she’s undergoing premature menopause and will never be able to have children. Aria teaches literacy at a nonprofit agency and lives with her Spelman girlfriend, Rochelle, in the crack-riddled neighborhood of West End. Her widowed mother is psychologically unstable, and older sister Hermione, who was also in the car that fateful day in 1978, fled home early by marrying the rich best friend of their dead father. These personal details, however, don’t enrich the plot, which drags around Aria’s desire to be married and stable like her sister. Whenever she sees Dwayne, who is six foot four and solid, she burbles, “He was the type of man that made you just want to climb up and hide in the branches.” Dwayne is certainly charming, disarming her mother and sister, and he seems like a good catch, but the dénouement that brings their final reckoning seems uncharacteristic and forced. Jones does a more consistent job with other characterizations, particularly Aria’s pregnant student Keisha and her crackhead neighbor Cynthia, but the many perceptive portraits don’t coalesce into a compelling narrative.

This vernacular and likable heroine deserves more from life—and from her author.

Pub Date: April 18th, 2005
ISBN: 0-446-53246-0
Page count: 336pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2005


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