Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage is the powerful, infuriating, beautiful story of a marriage destroyed by a wrongful conviction.
Celestial and Roy live in Atlanta and have been married for a little over a year when, while visiting Roy’s parents in small-town Louisiana, Roy is arrested and charged with raping a woman in the hotel they’re staying at. Roy can’t have done it – he was in bed with Celestial all night. But the jury doesn’t believe him, and he is sentenced to 12 years in Louisiana prison.
The rippling effects that Roy’s wrongful incarceration have on his marriage to Celestial take years to surface. What must it be like for Celestial – who has known her husband far less than the 12 years he’s been sentenced to – to continue living, continue being his wife, and not only on the other side of the bars but also in another state? What must it be like for Roy, who holds tight to his wife’s love to carry him through these lonely years but has nothing to give her in return?
So much can, and does, happen in their time apart. An American Marriage answers many questions – what are the repercussions of mass / wrongful incarceration?; can a marriage withstand anything?; how much do we owe to the ones we love? – in a spectacular, maddening fashion.
Please take caution while reading An American Marriage if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Sexual assault
- Death or dying
- Pregnancy / abortion
My favorite books are those that can elicit the most sincere emotions – good or bad, and An American Marriage absolutely fits into that category. This story is an emotional roller coaster, just as the characters lives’ are throughout the story. Jones is an expert at pulling the reader’s heart strings, but also letting the reader be rightfully frustrated at the way Celestial and Roy’s lives have played out.
If you’re looking for a feel-good story, you have come to the wrong place. But if you’re looking for a diverse and honest look at marriage and family dynamics, this is the book for you. Celestial, Roy, and their families are Black, and Jones explores how this affects their experiences. From how hard Celestial’s father and Roy have had to work to be successful compared to their white counterparts, to the facts of Roy’s incarceration, and beyond – their ethnicity is an integral part of this moving, compelling story.
I’ve mentioned a few times that it’s frustrating – and it is. Following along as a spectator of the conditions, choices, and honest mistakes and missteps that lead Celestial and Roy to and through Roy’s incarceration and beyond is no easy task. This book is a deep-dive into a marriage that is faced with impossible circumstances, and the frustration I felt while reading was not unwelcome.
Jones’ writing is quite unique – some of the book is in first-person retrospective, some in letters back and forth, and some in first-person present tense. I love each of the writing styles and think they work perfectly with the periods within the story that they’re used in. The letters in particular are the most compelling to me, both because I generally love the epistolary writing style, but also because the letters that Roy and Celestial write one another are at once so person and very formal. They’re trying to remain level-headed and clear-eyed in a situation that calls for flying off the handle, and the internal struggle is very apparent and compelling.
An American Marriage is not only moving; it’s also a wickedly interesting story. You must know how Roy and Celestial end up, right?! If you love to hate the way a book makes you feel, I think you’ll enjoy this beautiful novel.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on An American Marriage. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya!