In An American Marriage, circumstances put loyalty to the test. After just a year of marriage, Celestial and Roy find themselves in an undesirable situation and Roy is sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. How does a new relationship endure such a setback? During Roy’s incarceration, the couple grows apart; they exchange letters about their feelings and family, but is it enough to keep them together? Ultimately Celestial’s prison visits dwindle to nothing and Celestial turns to her old friend Andre for support. Roy is continually hopeful he and his wife will pick up where they left off when he is released but is naive when it comes to her true feelings.
This uniquely written character driven novel let’s us in on the struggles of an incarcerated man, an independent woman and their marriage during a 12 year sentence. Through the exchange of letters we learn of their past, their families and their desires, yet their communications are cause for misunderstandings. Celestial’s family hires a lawyer to fight for justice and after a long time working on the case and five years served, Roy is set free. He hopes to return to his previous live, but time has moved on and even though Celestial has stood by him in his innocence, she has mixed feelings about his release as she has changed direction in her personal life.
I enjoyed this book although the consensus of my bookclub was that even though it was well written and worthwhile to read, the characters were not likable. Celestial and Roy’s choices and behaviors are fodder for good discussion: Should she visit Roy in jail? Divorce Roy? Should Roy give Celestial permission to leave him? Should he act upon his jealousy? Are they clear with each other about their desires regarding a family? Did their role models in life effect the way they behave and think?
Race and the justice system are undercurrent themes in this story of love, marriage, commitment and the pursuit of the American Dream, and I recommend it, especially for book groups.
About the Author:
Tayari Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage (Algonquin Books, February 2018). Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Silver Sparrow was named a #1 Indie Next Pick by booksellers in 2011, and the NEA added it to its Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University.