“Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward–with hope and pain–into the future.”
My Thoughts: Marriage is a popular subject matter for authors, and it is easy to see why. The idea of taking two different people and having them work through their differences to create a lifethat works best for them is rife with conflict. Moreover, marriage is difficult. It is not something that grows and matures spontaneously. It requires effort from both parties and a commitment to stay through the rough times. Most authors are quite successful in painting realistic pictures of marriage, or so I thought until I read Tayari Jones‘ novel An American Marriage.
An American Marriage is not just a story about a young couple forced to rethink their future as one is wrongly imprisoned, nor is it a story about marriage although it blows all other marriage stories out of the water. It is a story about relationships in general. It is also a story about black culture and the inherent challenges society creates solely due to skin color. It is a story about the judicial system and the racial bias that exists. It is a story about all of this and none of this because Roy and Celestial and their relationship remains the beating heart of the novel.
At no point in time does Ms. Jones beat readers over the head with her message. Her comments about black culture and about racism are simply that. Meant to fill in the details of Celestial and Roy’s life, they provide the backdrop needed to create understanding for readers not familiar with this culture and not daily exposed to racism, whether blatant or subtle. There is no pontificating, no wrestling with the unfairness of it all. She presents her story and her characters in a matter-of-fact manner that does more to raise your awareness of what is than any preaching could accomplish. To Roy and Celestial and their friends and family, this is what life is and there is not much they can do about it. Chilling.
An American Marriage is best read cold without any preconceived notions or any idea of the story. Only then can you experience the full gamut of emotions the novel conveys. Only then can Ms. Jones’ subtle messages filter into your subconscious. Only then can you recognize the ongoing racism people of color experience every day. Only then does the novel blow you away with its simultaneous beauty and pathos. Only then can you appreciate the mastery with which Ms. Jones structures her story and marvel at the nuances she uses to create a vibrant picture of life in the south for persons of color. Only then can you recognize An American Marriage for what it is – one of the best books of 2018.