An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Maturity Level: 5
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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. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-elusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel.
Wow. What a beautiful book. The writing was so lush, and lovely, and lyrical. I was expecting this to be a powerful book, but I was completely taken by surprise by how incredible the writing was.
In fact, a lot about this book surprised me. I knew it was about a family dealing with incarceration, but the manner in which Jones did that was surprising. The first maybe 50 pages or so cover how Roy comes to be in prison. The next 50-ish pages kind of give the highlights of his time in prison through letters between Roy and Celestial, which emphasize the changes in their relationship. But most of the book takes place over the 5 days after he is released from prison.
It’s very character driven. The plot is very much there and present, but it acts as a backdrop for the characters. It’s told from three points of view, Roy (the imprisoned husband), Celestial (the wife), and Andre (Celestial’s childhood best friend). The characters are all fully developed and complicated. They all go on deep character journeys. I will say that Andre’s perspective was sometimes a little jarring because it was focused on something so different from Roy’s and Celestial’s, but I think he was my favorite character.
An American Marriage really explores the complexities of love. There’s more than one way to love a person, and you can love more than one person at one time. Family love and expectations are especially strongly featured. Jones is not subtle in her push against the traditional American family. By having those expectations you maybe can’t help but live up to them, both the good and the bad.
This was a four-star for me, not five, mostly because I got so frustrated with Celestial. She is a very different person from me, which already made her difficult to relate to, and she is placed in am impossible position. She wants to be loyal to her husband, but at the same time she might never see him again, and she wants to move on with her life. While what she went through was in no way comparable to Roy’s experience in prison, it can’t be denied that it was still damn hard. I felt for her. But her absolute refusal to commit to anything was beyond frustrating. She made a big deal about how she was her own woman and she didn’t belong to anybody, but she refused to make any decisions on her own. She allowed (and even asked) the men in her life to do everything for her, and when things didn’t go the way she wanted she just sort of accepted it, but pouted. She refused to COMMUNICATE. Like, all the drama could have just been avoided if she would have used her WORDS. I was very angry with her for most of the book.
But y’all, this book is truly outstanding. There’s a reason it was nominated for the National Book Award. I was especially thankful for the in-depth look at what it is to be a black American. I HIGHLY recommend An American Marriage.