I’m late to the party but I finally finished “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones. Even though I’d ordered it as my February BotM selection, I held off on reading the novel because I was positive it wouldn’t live up to the hype as an Oprah Book Club selection. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, in fact, it did live up to the reviews. I thought the writer did a great job of tackling issues of race, class, and gender. The novel was well-written, captivating and engaging, I found it difficult to put down. Certain scenes (especially toward the latter half of the novel) were quite raw and visceral.
Roy and Celestial first meet in college; there is no love at first sight here. Rather, Roy is interested in Celestial, and the latter couldn’t be more disinterested in him. Years pass and the two meet again in New York, setting the stage for their romance. Roy, a burgeoning sales executive and Celestial, an up-and-coming successful artist, get married. The union is a rocky one, as Roy flirts with the ladies and Celestial finds a few phone numbers in his pockets, even a receipt for lingerie. But they think they’re past it. They begin to think about the future, about children.
In what is supposed to be a year of newlywed bliss, the unthinkable happens. During a trip to Roy’s home in Louisiana, he is accused and convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit. He is sentenced to a 12-year sentence.
After five years, Roy’s sentence is commuted and he is released. Life changes in the blink of an eye and moves just as fast. The same people that entered a marriage together are no longer the same, as to be expected. When he leaves prison, he remains hopeful that he and Celestial can begin again since she never filed the divorce papers. He learns that’s easier said than done.
The book is told via three voices: Celestial, Roy, and Andre, a childhood friend of Celestial’s. I enjoyed the alternating points-of-view, the switch between Roy’s time in prison while Celestial and Andre were in the outside world. Each character felt fully fleshed out, and what I appreciated was that there was no good side, bad side to take. The secondary characters were equally as well-written. I was devastated when certain deaths occurred.
“An American Marriage” is a fascinating character study about the long-reaching effects that wrongful incarceration has, something that happens more frequently to innocent black men. It’s not just the convicted that suffers. The novel is also a study on marriage, and loyalty. Aspects of it rang true to me because real life is messy – who hasn’t gotten caught between a parent and a spouse? I was glad that the author didn’t shy away from conveying that. I wasn’t crazy about the end, so that’s why I knocked off a star. I’m curious how others found the ending, if anyone wants to share!
Atlas has already claimed it for his next read.