With An American Marriage, Tayari Jones presents one of the most tragic, complex love triangles I’ve ever read. We have Celestial, a thriving black artist in Atlanta, her husband Roy, wrongfully incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, and their neighbor Andre, Celestial’s childhood best friend who attended college with Roy. Andre is the reason Roy and Celestial met, bringing them together for the first time, but he is also the force that drives them apart. Can you imagine a more complicated situation?
From the back cover:
A captivating love story that is also a clear-eyed look at the effects of injustice in contemporary American life, Tayari Jones’s novel gorgeously chronicles three people who are bound together and separated by forces beyond their control. As newlyweds, Celestial and Roy are living the American Dream. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But after Roy’s incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Celestial, bereft and unmoored, turns to childhood friend and Roy’s best man, Andre, for support. As Roy’s absence drags on, Celestial faces soul-wrenching decisions about balancing loyalty with independence, desire with social and familial expectation, and what is right with what is fair- and to whom. Gripping, timely, and masterful, An American Marriage looks deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward- with hope and pain- into the future.
An American Marriage is presented loosely in two halves. The first chronicles Celestial and Roy’s short-lived marriage and his conviction. Its majority is told through letters back and forth between the couple throughout the five years Roy is imprisoned. The letters, which attest to the state of their marriage, provide an interesting perspective to read from. For Roy, the letters are a source of hope, his way to stay connected with his wife and with the outside world; but for Celestial, they are a constant reminder of the time Roy has left in prison, and she finds herself questioning her loyalty to her husband.
While the first half covers a time period of five years, the second half covers just a handful of days after Roy is released from prison, seven years early. I tore through the last 100 pages, desperate to know the fate of Roy and Celestial’s marriage. I was happy to come across the epilogue, which is such a beautiful conclusion to Jones’s novel. I don’t know which part of the novel was more emotional: the unjust circumstances leading to Roy’s incarceration, or the turmoil it caused on Celestial and their marriage.
“Home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.”
-Tayari Jones, An American Marriage
An American Marriage offers an important look at the relationship between two people: the wrongfully incarcerated black man and his semi-loyal, struggling wife. While exploring the harsh faults of America’s justice system, it asks the questions, “what does it mean to be married?” and “must you live in harmony in order to share your life with someone?” Well-loved by none other than Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and the winner of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, An American Marriage has a lot to say, and it was a pleasure to sit down and listen.
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