The American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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.

Atlas Reads

Links of interest

I know a few people suffering from chronic pain, so I found this article to be thought-provoking. “Is Chronic Pain Something More People Should Accept?” As the article states, “there’s no one way that people learn to accept and live with chronic pain. What works for one person might not work for another,” which is very much true. I’m not advocating for people to just “accept” their pain, but it was an interesting look into a different side of how to tackle the opioid crisis.

The Guardian published a particularly relevant article on the #deletefacebook movement, and “Why Disabled People Can’t Afford to #DeleteFacebook.”

Today is Equal Pay Day. Learn more about it from the perspective of an HR Exec here, read about wage disparity here, and how to ask for a raise here.

Recent ★★★★ reads, and purchases

Book Club reading

Recent 4 ★★★★ reads include White Chrysanthemums by Mary Lynn Bracht and Every Note Played by Lisa Genova. 3-star reads include Tips for Living by Renee Shafransky and The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann, the latter closer to 3.5 stars if given the option.

I purchased Circe on Friday. Target was running a sale, the book was $2.97 so how could I pass that up? I ended up paying more in shipping. I also ordered Jurassic Park by Micheal Crichton, The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara and Hemingway’s Havana: A Reflection of the Writer’s Life in Cuba by Robert Wheeler, which I purchased to help me convince my husband that we should go to Cuba.

I am not making progress on Darkness at Noon, my book club read. That’s coming up this weekend. Has anyone experienced a lull in their book club readings? How do you get over the hump?

My friend and I have tickets to see Roxane Gay in two weeks. I read Bad Feminist and I should get a move on and read Hunger before the talk. I’m so excited to see her.

I was interested in participating in the #25in5 challenge this past weekend but ultimately, it didn’t work out. It would be nice to read a novel with a friend as part of a challenge but I feel like if you’re just trying to read a book to meet your quota, well, where’s the fun in that? I’m starting to feel like there’s a lot of competition in the reading/bookstagram world these days.

The One Where Olga Finally Gets a Book Club of Her Own

The One Where Olga Gets a Book Club of Her Own

Recently I attended BAM’s Eat, Drink & Be Literary Program. It was really fun, and my friend and I got to hear Hari Kunzru discuss White Tears, and then he signed our copies. It felt wonderful to be surrounded by like-minded people and have the opportunity to have a conversation with them. Two of the women at our table are part of book clubs, so of course my ears perked up. I’ve always wanted to be a part of one. One of the women, her book club has sixteen members, and it’s been going on a lot longer than she’s been included. The other woman is part of a book club that has eight members, a much more manageable figure to me. As luck would have it, I’d get to partake in a book club of my own.

This past Sunday, I had my first official meeting. It all started when one of my close friends let me know that he was reading Fahrenheit 451 and of course, I immediately added myself into his book club because I’ve never read the book, and then added a friend of mine, who added her boyfriend. It was an interesting experience, and I thought it was a great group of people to discuss the classic novel with.

We met at a bar/restaurant, the five of us with copies of the book in-hand (or on our phone). What I particularly enjoyed about our time together was that we kept our main focus on the book, occasionally drifting into other territory. The bulk of the conversation was focused on our thoughts on Fahrenheit 451 and other books.

At one point, our waiter interrupted and asked if the reading was for class or book club. “A little too realistic,” he said, and we couldn’t have agreed more, which was why 451 felt so appropriate to read now. Sometimes you’re ready for some books at certain times. He told us about seeing 1984, the play recently and how the last time he went to a bar, he bought an IPA and sat there reading The Catcher in the Rye.

One of the other members brought her mom’s first edition copy of the book. Turned out that her mom hadn’t ever read her copy. When the member got a hold of the book, she read it and re-read it, and by the third time, she was reading it to her mother. The book leaves you with a lot to mull over. I found myself underlining a lot of sentences, as they really did bring me back to this current administration. I was surprised by the quickness of the end.

Our goal is to reconvene in two-three weeks, after we read Darkness at Noon, the inspiration for 451.

Happy Snow Day from Atlas!

I was able to get home in the early afternoon, just as the snow was worsening. It wasn’t coming down too badly on my way home, and the commute was pretty good. It felt nice to not have to travel during rush hour. Thanks to getting home early, I was able to finish Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. I’ll read the second book in the series when it comes out but I can’t quite put my finger on whether or not I actually enjoyed this one.

I first picked up the book because of the cover, which is a bright blue background and has large white letters for the title. I promised myself I wouldn’t buy another book at the time, but I kept coming back to it. Finally I was able to snag it at the library.

In 1936, Albert Ellingham built an elite private school (but tuition-free!) in Vermont for children of all ages to practice their own interests, to engage in puzzles, read books, and really explore the world around them. Being a fun of mazes and riddles, the campus is also home to a multitude of hidden nooks and crannies. However, she and Iris, her mother, were kidnapped and held for ransom. Iris’s body was recovered a few weeks later, but not Alice’s. The only clue left behind was a mocking riddle from Truly Devious, a pseudonym.

Decades later, Stevie Bell has arrived on campus and is eager to solve the crime. Fancying herself an amateur sleuth, she believes that she has found the missing link to clear the alleged killer’s name and bring the real one to justice. Then, it’s onto the FBI, where her real life can begin. Before she can crack open the old case, however, she has to adjust to being away from home, learn how to make friends, and manage her anxiety.

I thought Stevie was a good character. She was strong and embraced her differences, but not at the expense of belittling females who are interested in make-up or being a cheerleader – which is also what her conservative, traditional parents want her to be. I didn’t care too much about the other characters. I didn’t think we spent enough time with them to really gauge their personalities, and I wished that we were shown more of Janelle and Stevie’s friendship. Good female friendships are hard to come by!

My issue was also with pacing. The book is set across two timelines: 1936 and present day, with a murder mystery in each one. The problem was, we didn’t get to the murder in the present day period until halfway through the book. I felt like in that regard, it took too long for the story to get started.

I find myself thinking and re-thinking about the end. I wasn’t crazy about it. I don’t know, it was hard for me to really get into the book and then to come to the end so abruptly.. I guess that’s why I’m not sure if I liked liked the book.

On a side note, I’m at 41 books for the year (out of 100, my goal!) I’m relieved about that because I haven’t felt as energized about reading lately, and it’s more of a personal thing than my reading selections. I’ve had a few really bad headaches, so it’s put a dent in my reading time, which is also a killer because a lot of my books are from the library. I have ordered a few! So much for my book buying ban. I picked up the following recently:
Only Child by Rhiannon Navin – I’ve heard great things
Warcross by Marie Lu
The Balloonists by Eula Biss – as recommended by a writing class!
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James – my mother-in-law loves her.

I can’t wait for them to come. Now. If only to find more room on the bookshelf.