Book Review: An American Marriage

This is probably going to end up being a very ‘gushy’ review so forgive me if it reads that way! I was blown away by this book and can’t believe I had waited so long to read it.

As I’m now part of the online book community (feels weird saying that as I have such a small following!) I have a responsibility, like so many others, to make sure I am reading a diverse range of books. Back in June I pledged to read at least one book a month written by an author of colour. It certainly isn’t going to change the world I know, but it’s a step in the right direction.

An American Marriage

Tayari Jones

Genres: novel, domestic fiction

Book 41/50

My rating: ★★★★★ 

Synopsis (Waterstones)

“Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of the American Dream. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. Until one day 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.

Devastated and unmoored, Celestial finds herself struggling to hold on to the love that has been her centre, taking comfort in Andre, their closest friend. When Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, he returns home ready to resume their life together.

A masterpiece of storytelling, An American Marriage offers a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three unforgettable characters who are at once bound together and separated by forces beyond their control.”

My review

An American Marriage is a profound work of storytelling with an imperative message about the ongoing, racial injustices that ensnare American society. It follows the lives of a newly wed black couple, Celestial and Roy. On the surface their life seems perfect and fulfilled, as they both have careers and a house to call their own- it is the beginning of a life together.

However, their whole life and relationship is turned upside down when Roy gets falsely accused of rape. Despite a lack of evidence to justify his conviction, Roy is automatically assumed guilty due to the colour of his skin and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What follows for him is five years in prison, serving time for a crime he did not commit. Somehow, Celestial also has to try and continue with her life – the dilemma of wanting to put her life on hold for Roy’s sake, and wanting to move on, is at the heart of her sections in the novel.

Jones explores the undercurrent of systemic racism which is ever present in America’s judicial system and how black men in particular, are still the dominant scapegoats within American society. The forces that strip Roy’s life apart are completely beyond his control, which exposes the endless sense of injustice that so many black people have to live with.

Image: Oprah.com

Within the exploration of racism and the criminal justice system is also the exploration of a relationship falling apart. Celestial and Roy write each other letters to try and make their relationship stay afloat. All the while, Celestial is pursing a relationship with her lifelong best friend, Andre. Roy has the suspicion that she is seeing someone else, but cannot confront it until he is released. The use of letters throughout the novel was incredibly poignant and well crafted, as readers, you really see an insight into the undercurrents of their relationship and their individual thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

Chapters alternate between the perspective of Roy, Celestial and Andre which I think really adds to the complexity. This multi layered perspective gives a real insight into how one event, predominantly affecting one individual, has a wider impact. Both Celestial and Roy’s actions made me angry in a variety of ways, but you know you’re reading a good book when it forces you to feel something.

Image: Pinterest

I can’t say too much without giving the plot away but Celestial and Roy are both flawed beings and the time spent in prison perhaps shows how their marriage was always futile. When Roy is released, he and Celestial have to try and rebuild their lives and bridge the gap between them that five years spent apart created. The last section of the book is harrowing, as Roy has to adjust to all the changes that have happened since his time inside.

In An American Marriage, Jones manages to craft a compelling story, a set of likeable and investable characters as well as an imperative message about the racial injustices so prominent within American society. It forced me to reflect on my own privilege, as being a white woman, I don’t have to live with the threat that one day I could be stopped for something I didn’t do, just because of the colour of my skin.

I consumed this book so quickly and was completely mesmerized by the writing, the characters and the message. Jones manages to combine an exploration of class, race, gender and all the surrounding injustices with so much poignancy and ease of delivery which makes it a masterpiece of its own kind.

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Like many others, I am still learning about the best ways to talk about race. As always, If you think I need to phrase something differently or I’ve said something out of line – please let me know. I won’t take offence but will be thankful you have pointed it out.

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