An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Hardcover, 320 pages
February 6th 2018 by Algonquin Books
Note: I received a copy of An American Marriage from the publisher for review consideration.
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 was the first book I read in 2018! While I laid sick in bed, I poured over the lives of Roy, Celestial, and Andre. And damn was it good.
Roy and Celestial are success stories. Roy was able to get out of his hometown, go to university, and become a business man. He was on the up-and-up, living in the big city of Atlanta, and now he has the perfect home life. Celestial is an artist from a wealthy family, making a name for herself. Together, they are the epitome of the American Dream.
But can such a thing last?
From the beginning, you know what’s coming. There is foreshadowing throughout as Celestial and Roy travel to visit Roy’s parents in Louisiana. There, something goes horribly wrong and Roy is arrested. He’s innocent, but he is sentenced to twelve years in prison.
When all of this goes down, Roy and Celestial have only been married for a little over a year. Celestial loves Roy and tries to stay faithful to their marriage. But as the days go by, they’ve been apart longer they they’ve ever been together. Does she owe this man–who, at this point, is more of an idea–the rest of her life? While she is struggling, her childhood friend (and maybe more?) Andre is by her side.
This book has three perspectives: Roy, Celestial, and Andre. When Roy is in prison, the story is in letter form. When he is released, the story goes back to rotating POVs. This format works really well for this story.
Each character is complex and fully fleshed out. None of them are perfect, and yet you sympathize with them all. The situation is heartbreaking for everyone involved. Tom Perrotta really sums it up in his blurb on the book:
An American Marriage asks hard questions about injustice and betrayal, and answers them with a heartbreaking and genuinely suspenseful love story in which nobody’s wrong and everybody’s wounded.
Not only is this a story about love and what betrayal means, but it’s also a story about systemic racism and how it destroys innocent lives. Roy is tackled, arrested, and not believed because he’s a black man in Louisiana. Celestial is his alibi, but no one believes her.
A beautiful, complex, heartbreaking story where you’re rooting for every character, but someone has to lose.
I highly recommend you check this one out. This would be especially great for book clubs.
Beth is the founder and editor of Fuelled by Fiction. She is a twenty-something east coast Canadian girl who loves writing about books and feminism.