Book Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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A popular novel, this one is also a timely one to read given the Black Lives Matter protests worldwide at the moment.

The story is about a young, black educated couple. Roy, a rising executive and Celestial an upcoming artist, are newly married and intensely in love. Their lives are shattered when Roy is arrested, charged and jailed for twelve years for something he didn’t do.

His incarceration tests their love and their relationship and the dilemma is posed as we question ourselves – what would you do if this happened to you? Married for only eighteen months, the couple were still exploring the dimensions of their relationship. He’s in jail clinging onto hopes and dreams of a life with her. She moves on, opens her business and achieves accolades in the art world.  How can their relationship survive when they grow in different directions without the same experiences? What happens to their families and what positions do they take?

When Roy is eventually let out,  he tries to pick up from where they left off. The perception of what their lives should look like, seem almost patriarchal as we see the influential role the fathers of Celestial, Andre and Roy play in their children’s lives.

This is a love story of sorts told by three different people. The third character is Andre, Celestial’s long-time friend who introduced her to Roy and who stands by her. The structure is interesting as some of the story is told via their letters. Roy’s angst is particularly moving and we feel for him over the injustice of his incarceration and the consequential fallout on his family.
Without giving away spoilers, the person who he shares his jail cell seemed conveniently coincidental and I must admit to an eye-roll, yet it’s important to the story. Everything else is believable as the plot unfolds.

The characters are interesting and I warmed to Big Roy and Olive, Roy’s parents. Even though I understood her, I found difficulty relating to Celestial and she seemed remote particularly in the closing scenes. Her thoughts and feelings seemed to be fade away. Perhaps that’s what the author intended – for we fully witness the change in Roy through his thoughts and actions.

It’s an enjoyable read and beautifully written. I’d recommend it.

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