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.
An American Marriage is not just a story about a young couple forced to rethink their future as one is wrongly imprisoned, nor is it a story about marriage although it blows all other marriage stories out of the water. It is a story about relationships in general. It is also a story about black culture and the inherent challenges society creates solely due to skin color. It is a story about the judicial system and the racial bias that exists. It is a story about all of this and none of this because Roy and Celestial and their relationship remains the beating heart of the novel.
At no point in time does Ms. Jones beat readers over the head with her message. Her comments about black culture and about racism are simply that. Meant to fill in the details of Celestial and Roy’s life, they provide the backdrop needed to create understanding for readers not familiar with this culture and not daily exposed to racism, whether blatant or subtle. There is no pontificating, no wrestling with the unfairness of it all. She presents her story and her characters in a matter-of-fact manner that does more to raise your awareness of what is than any preaching could accomplish. To Roy and Celestial and their friends and family, this is what life is and there is not much they can do about it. Chilling.
An American Marriage is best read cold without any preconceived notions or any idea of the story. Only then can you experience the full gamut of emotions the novel conveys. Only then can Ms. Jones’ subtle messages filter into your subconscious. Only then can you recognize the ongoing racism people of color experience every day. Only then does the novel blow you away with its simultaneous beauty and pathos. Only then can you appreciate the mastery with which Ms. Jones structures her story and marvel at the nuances she uses to create a vibrant picture of life in the south for persons of color. Only then can you recognize An American Marriage for what it is – one of the best books of 2018.
This is the story of an American marriage but it's also the story of the toll incarceration takes on the lives it touches. The African American characters accept that they are more likely to be incarcerated as a simple fact of life. Their feelings about this -- and about all the other realities with which they are confronted -- are rationally complex but Jones does not drift into social commentary. Her focus is the people emerging from the page, the tensions in their interdependent relationships, and the absence of a pat happy ending.
Last June, I was thrilled to meet Ms. Jones again, at the Book Expo in NYC, and to get a copy of her upcoming book An American Marriage, which publishes Februrary 6th. Once again, Tayari Jones has written a stunning novel, and it has already garnered so much worthy praise, including being Oprah's Book Club's latest pick. (Hooray!)
Roy is a black man who grew up in a small Louisiana town called Eloe. His mother worked at a meat-and-three restaurant, his daddy worked at a sporting goods store. They weren't poor, but "there was nothing extra."
Roy made it to Morehouse College on a scholarship for first generation college students. While there, he met and fell in love with Celestial, a young woman who grew up in Atlanta, the daughter of a well-to-do family.
Celestial and Roy were happy together- Roy had a good job as a salesman for a textbook company, Celestial was an artist, making cloth dolls and hoping one day to hit it big selling them. They were married for just over a year, when it happened.
While visiting Roy's parents, they stayed at a hotel. The visit with Roy's parents didn't go well (his mother wants grandbabies, Celestial wants to wait), and Roy and Celestial have a big fight.
When a woman is attacked that night at the hotel, she tells the police it was Roy who did it. In a moment, his entire life is turned upside down. He is charged, tried and convicted and goes to prison.
Not only is Roy's life upended, so is Celestial's. The story is told from three points of view- Roy, Celestial and her childhood friend Andre's.
We see how the bonds of Roy and Celestial's marriage are tested throughout their separation. Roy states "I believed that our marriage was a fine-spun tapestry, fragile but fixable. We tore it often and mended it again, always with a silken thread, lovely but sure to give way again."
An American Marriage is a heartbreaking novel that deals with the big themes of the difficulties and joys of marriage, race, class, loyalty, and the price of mass incarceration (both to the individual and society as a whole), through the prism of Roy and Celestial's marriage.
I didn't want An American Marriage to end. It is a book to savor, and I was sad when I finished it. You feel so deeply for these characters, caught up in a situation not of their making. Tayari Jones is an amazing storyteller, and she weaves her way into your heart and soul with her words.
I give An American Marriage my highest recommendation- you must read this book!
Celestial and Roy have been married just over a year. They are both successful in their careers, own a nice house and are starting to talk about starting a family. Despite the normal problems that exist in marriage, they are in love and making plans for their future. Then something horrendous happens that puts all of their plans on hold when Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years for a crime that they both know he didn't commit. They are both lost in their new lives and their love for each other becomes less as time goes on. During Roy's time in prison, the author had them communicating through letters showing their increased distance from each other. Will they be able to go back to their old lives when Roy gets out of prison or will the changes in both of their lives make it impossible for that to happen?
This is a wonderful novel about love and marriage, racial injustice and the difference between the rich and the poor in this country. The main characters are well written but there are other secondary characters that are just as memorable. This is a book that will stay in my mind long after the last page was read.
Thanks to librarything for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
**I received a free advance copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review.**
This is a beautifully written book that not only takes an in depth look at an American marriage that has been dealt a severe blow but also racial injustice. I love how the author switches to using only letters between the characters once Roy is sentenced to prison. It underscores the separation and distance that has been imposed between these two. They’re each fighting their individual battles – Roy with the injustice of what has been done to him and all that he’s lost when he has tried so hard to do everything right and Celestial is dealing with a battle between responsibility and desire.
The love story is heart wrenching and the suspense of what will happen is often unbearable. Highly recommended.
This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
I hope that “An American Marriage” gets the widest possible exposure and take-up. This injustice has to end. Thanks to @LibraryThing and@ AlgonquinBooks.
Well drawn characterizations and a thought provoking and timely topic combines to make a potent blend, which kept me riveted to the pages of this book.
Roy had done everything right, is successful, married to a beautiful woman, living the American dream- until he is falsely accused of rape and sent to prison.
Celestial finds her comfortable life turned on its axis after Roy is incarcerated. She remains loyal to her husband, but as the years pass, her life continues to move forward, while Roy’s stagnates behind bars, and her feelings for him begin to wane, prompting her to seek comfort from another man.
Meanwhile, lawyers are working round the clock to get Roy’s conviction overturned- which miraculously, after serving five years, it is!!
But, Roy, soon learns that easing back into his former life and resuming his marriage with Celestial is easier said than done.
What stands out for me in this novel, are the little nuances. Roy, who opens the dialogue in the first chapter, drew me in with his honesty, and humor, which was occasionally sheepish and self- deprecating, even though I disapproved of some of his actions.
Celestial was, for some reason, a character I found difficult to warm up to at first, but upon reflection, I think her character may have gone through the most productive growth of all.
Celestial’s needs and expectations are different from Roy’s ideals, some of which can be attributed to male/female roles and expectations in a marriage, and others to their own individuality. But, throw in a HUGE live altering test of the marriage and it will either strengthen or fall apart. Which way did things go for Roy and Celestial?
The other timely topics explored have to do with racism and mass incarceration. Prison life is fraught with danger and loneliness, and of course Roy missed his former life, but it was simple things, things we so easily take for granted that makes the bleakness of his situation come alive.
Despite their flaws, and each party has their fair share of them, they were basically ordinary people thrown in an extraordinary circumstance and left to cope with those circumstances as best they could. They were both human, with real needs, desires, hopes, and dreams. Both made excuses, both played the blame game, but both have a bond together they find hard to break free of.
The epistolary parts of the novel were well done, which exposes both the closeness and the awkwardness of the marriage, but also the way time robbed them of the growth marriages need to survive.
The secondary characters were added depth and conflict and were also very well drawn, and equally affected by the outcome of Roy and Celetial's marriage.
While the book is not filled with action or suspense, or even, despite the heaviness of the situation, is it melodramatic, with one exception, that, to be honest, almost had to happen, to break the tension that boiled to the surface. There were a few tense moments that made me pretty uncomfortable, but mostly the author just allowed the characters to flow, to take charge, and dictate the pacing. This approach sounds understated and maybe even underwhelming, but this story was incredibly absorbing, and I have to say the conclusion was surprising- but at the same time- not. Despite some misgivings and mixed emotions about how the characters ended up, overall, I think they may be exactly where they need to be, both as individuals and as a couple. It may be tempting to take sides, but I can’t say I would do better or worse in that same situation, but I did struggle with passing judgments on occasion.
Either way, this is a well written examination of relationships and human foibles, and how otherwise normal, well intentioned, good people face adversity and come out on the other end of it changed, for better or worse.
But what happens to those they leave behind? In this novel Jones looks at Roy Jr and Celestial, relative newlyweds, middle/upper-middle class Atlantans. Until he is accused and arrested and tried in rural Louisiana, on a trip to visit his parents. He is innocent, but it doesn't really matter. The jury believes the accuser (whom he believes does not realize she is wrong) over himself and his alibi, his wife.
So off he goes to jail on a 12-year sentence. And while he is gone Celestial tries visiting, tries keeping it a secret, and continues on with her Poupees art doll business to great success.
But can a couple--married just 1.5 years when pulled apart--keep their marriage together under such circumstances?
However, especially at the beginning of the book, I found both Roy and Celestial, who were arguing, to be rather unlikeable. Roy’s being charged and imprisoned occurred near the beginning of the story; it happened suddenly with no court scene being described. Celestial and Andre never took real responsibility for their behavior while Roy was in prison; they merely said they were not at fault. There is a very violent scene near the end of the book, which I feel detracts from the story, but might be realistic concerning the circumstances. In spite of all that, the book is well-written and tells an interesting story.
Tayari once again writes complex characters in complex situations. She reminds us that people are not black and white, but shades of gray. And that life and marriage can be messy and complicated. Her style is engaging and beautifully written, whether she creates whole sections of the book as letters written between a husband and wife or alternates chapters from the POV of different characters.
While the characters are complicated, I must admit that I had a hard time with the main female character, Celestial. To me, she came across as very spoiled and self-serving. Life didn’t turn out the way she expected, so she abandons her vows to seek the life that she believes she deserves. When I think of all the newly married couples during World War II who hung in there not knowing whether the husband would die during the war or how war might change him when he returned home, then Celestial falls far short.
Tayari gave me a glimpse into a way of life that I have no experience – the experience of African-Americans in the contemporary South. I highly recommend this book.
These are characters to that one wants to root for, wants things to turn out well for them. Of course, life seldom works that way, things change, circumstances beyond ones control interfere. A story where events shape a future, where a chance meeting changes a life, where the only bad guy is the Justice system, a system it is almost impossible to defeat. The high cost of incarceration, prisons full of young black men, many times not given a voice, not believed or railroaded by a system who believes the must be guilty. For Roy, his life will never be the same. He must fight to remember who he was, where he was and what he wanted in his life.
This author does an amazing job detailing the crisis in a marriage that was interrupted by the system. Her writing is clear, concise, but pointed and sharp. The characters fully developed people with wants and needs of their own. The love of a family, a father who cares for a son that was not always his, and a young woman who must make a decision that will definitely her life going forward. Quite a book, quite a story.
ARC from Edelweiss.and library thing.
The relationship is lived and narrated by Roy, Celestial and Andre, their mutual friend. Jones is an excellent writer, giving vivid expression to the relationship.
I really enjoyed this book!
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.
The author explores not only how Roy is affected by his time in prison but how everyone in his life is affected as well. She brings the unfortunate mass incarceration epidemic we have in this country down to the micro level. Roy was an up and coming business man full of optimism before he was falsely convicted. Then his life was basically destroyed and his cheery optimism and ambition stomped out of him by the system.
Tayari Jones’s prose is beautiful and her characters are richly drawn. The depth of this story is amazing. There is so much to think about and so many questions to ask of oneself while reading. Because of that, I think this book would make an excellent book club selection. I know that it’s still early but I’m certain that An American Marriage will make my best reads of 2018 list.
Roy is accused of raping a white woman, and even though he's innocent, he's sentenced to 12 years. They immediately appeal, but of course appeals take time, and while that process is ongoing Roy's continued imprisonment leaves both of them uprooted. After five years, the appeal is ultimately successful, but that time has left both Roy and Celestial different people, and they can't just pick up where they left off.
Any more than that about the plot probably reveals more than would be preferable...this is a book that's best to savor as it reveals itself to you (and usually I'm pretty pro-spoiler, but this does really feel like an exception). The truth is that there's not a lot of "plot" per se, but there's enough, and the work that Jones does with character and the way she uses those characters to poke at our understanding of powerful themes like marriage, and family more broadly, are brilliant. The instinct to find a "good guy" and a "bad guy", when two people are in conflict, is so strong, but Jones refuses us that easy perspective. They're both the bad guy. They're both the good guy. They're both people who've spent the last five years suffering, and trying to deal with that suffering, in their own ways.
While there is a lot to really like here and this is definitely a good book, I'll be honest: it never quite crossed that line from good into great for me. I got more out of pondering it after I finished it than I got out of reading it, if that makes sense. And also, I had a small qualm with a writing choice Jones made: while the book is primarily told from the perspectives of Roy and Celestial, there's a third person who also gets point-of-view chapters. This person is important to the narrative and it wasn't that those portions were inferior or anything, but I would have preferred that the focus remained on the central couple exclusively. That being said, this is still a book that is well-worth your time and energy, and I'd recommend it to all readers.
That's a fairly simple plot summary, but of course there are a lot of interesting dynamics occurring throughout this novel. The strength of this story is more in the character development than in the plot itself. There were many times I strongly disliked Celestial for the choices she made (or didn't make). But as an outsider, as a reader, it's easy to judge. Put in a situation such as hers, I'm not sure I would've made better decisions. Tayari Jones presents a realistic portrayal of the effects that an unpredictable situation has on a marriage, and of the collateral damage it in turn wreaks on extended family and friends. I can see how this novel will likely be popular with book clubs, as it would be a good stimulant for discussion.