An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a story about race, justice, love and heartbreak. Jones crafted a compelling and unique narrative in this beautiful written novel. An American Marriage needs to be on the top of your TBR list.
The story centers on the marriage of Roy and Celestial, a young black couple with their entire lives ahead of them. He is a young executive and she is an artist. But in the blink of an eye, their lives change forever when Roy is falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He’s then sentenced to 12 years in prison. Roy experiences the unimaginable in prison while Celestial works to pick her broken life back up.
According to the NAACP, African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. This book shows the reader how racial injustice can shatter lives. This is an example of how reading can open one’s eyes to another person’s perspectives and struggles, while addressing a real issue in this country. It almost felt like this is a snapshot of race in America at the moment. I believe this book will be read by many for decades.
The story is told from the perspectives of Roy, Celestial and Andre, Celestial’s childhood friend. The different point of views gives more depth to the three main characters. When Roy is in jail, Jones employs a unique story choice of using letters to move the story forward. These letters are written by Roy and Celestial to one another and we read first-hand how their relationship begins to fray while he’s jail. These letters also reveal family secrets and the changes within Celestial and Roy themselves. The letter-style narrative is used once more after Roy is out of prison. I liked how she employed this kind of style because writing letters can be very revealing and more truthful rather than what’s said in person.
Jones wrote characters that felt real, raw and human. They’re all far from perfect but you can’t help and empathize with them in certain situations. As sides are drawn with the characters in the book, it’s a much harder choice for readers.
An examination of marriage
The horrific verdict tore Roy and Celestial apart. Something that’s interesting is Jones doesn’t portray them as a perfect married couple before Roy is wrongly convicted. In fact, shortly after the book begins, they get into a fight. But one half in jail while the other in the outside world would mess with the most rock-solid marriage. And we witness just how much of a toll it takes on both of them.
Celestial finds comfort in Andre, who has been in love with her from day one. In Andre, she seeks comfort and normalcy. Once Roy is released from prison seven years short of his 12-year jail sentence, he expects to go right back to Celestial and resume his life. Jones says in this article with NPR that she was inspired by The Odyssey:
Roy is like Odysseus — he has this huge challenge and he has to travel this journey … and he just wants to find a clean home and a faithful wife waiting on him at the other end.
Marriage, love and obligation are also huge themes of this novel.