An American Marriage

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

Unfortunately, I didn't connect with any of the characters in this book. While I empathize with the positions each character was forced into unfairly & unjustly, the writing just didn't pull it all together for me. There were too many instances where something was inferred as happening but not described so at times I was confused and felt like I had accidentally skipped a page or paragraph.
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The printed version was good, but I started it in audiobook form which left alot to be desired. I lost interest and had to pick it up several times. Worth reading, but wished for a better voice, as I read most books in the long car rides, and this one didn't work for me.
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The depth of a marriage is a personal and tricky thing and difficult to write about successfully.  This story was real and raw.  The characters are well thought out and developed.  The tragedies that befall us can change the course of life as we know it and that is what happens in this book.  This is one that stays with you.
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I think I caught this at a bad time for myself, but it’s very compelling. The haunting perfection of the exchange “I’m innocent”/“I’m innocent too” has a lot of staying power. The ending was perfect.
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This book was difficult to read - it is so difficult to read about false imprisonment and what happens to the friends and family of the person.  Jones made these characters ones the reader will care about.  The characters are real - lovable and with faults.
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This book unfortunately was too hyped up for me; it would never live up to the praise, which is unfortunate, since it is a very, very good book. The characters are so deeply human. They feel so alive; their thoughts and feelings jump off the page and infect the reader. I did feel the book needed a bit more editing to tighten it up, but ultimately, it is a promising debut.
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This book has a rocky start. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, this is about a young, upwardly mobile married couple in Atlanta faced with unforeseen circumstances that threaten to rip their marriage apart. As seen in the book’s synopsis, the husband — Roy — is wrongfully arrested and sentenced for twelve years. Celestial, his wife, is left alone to work at her business and visit hubby when possible. 

I didn’t much care for these characters, especially Roy. At least not at first. For the first 150 pages or so, this novel seems to be a portrait of the toxicity of masculinity. Celestial’s life is ripped to and fro by the men around her, and I just wanted to shake her shoulders and scream “Wake up!” Ugh. 

Things did pick up in the latter half, and the writing got less choppy. There were fewer exposition dumps and the characters became more sympathetic. My internal rating slowly rose to what it is now: four stars. The author stuck the landing; she didn’t go for what was easy, but what was appropriate for the story. I respect that. 

I am glad I read this, but I doubt I’ll revisit it. At times too flimsy, at other times downright frustrating, this is an uneven story with a killer second act.
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I found this to be an easy and engaging read. Celest and Roy were both likeable characters and I felt myself relating to Celest especially and feeling her pain as her life changed so dramatically after her husband was incarcerated. I would recommend this book!
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I have recommended this book to everyone I know. Marriage, the American Criminal Justice system, fate, friendship - it has it all in a compelling page turner. The last 50 pages or so may make you neglect your own family so you can finish.
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Tayari Jones’ new novel about a young, newlywed African-American couple torn apart when the husband is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, has quickly made it to the top of many must-read lists and was an Oprah’s Book Club pick.

In the story, Roy and Celestial, Jones’ main characters, are not just victims of a flawed justice system, but also of their own personal need to survive the curveball that has been thrown at them. Although they write each other letters of longing and love, Celestial finds herself relying on her friend Andre for support, while Roy fights from prison to prove his innocence.

In an email interview, Jones reveals her reasons for the novel’s title and why she thinks racial discrimination in the United States extends beyond African Americans.

Why the title An American Marriage?

This actually wasn’t my first title — or my second. I threw it out as my editor and I were brainstorming. He really liked it, but I was apprehensive. To me, “An American Marriage” sounded like a novel about a white suburban couple contemplating divorce. My editor asked me why I thought “American” meant “white suburban,” and it forced me to really think about questions of identity and citizenship.

I realized that I had never considered myself as “American” without “African” or “black” in front of it. To claim the title, I had to have a personal reckoning with myself about what it means to be American. I decided to claim this for my characters both as an expression of ownership — full ownership, not hyphenated ownership — of this country, and also as a criticism of the same country. After all, this tragedy that befalls Celestial and Roy is distinctly American, as the U.S. imprisons more of its citizens than any other developed country.

How long did you work on the novel? 

Six years!

If Roy and Celestial had been older when they married, do you think it would have been easier for Celestial to not gravitate toward Andre? Does age play a part in commitment?

Who knows? How much older do you mean? If they had been 80, would this not have happened? Or are we thinking of 35 as the age of stability? Is 45 old enough that you no longer experience desire? I really can’t say. Life is the intersection of a number of factors. I am not so much interested in critiquing their marriage or commitment. For me, the point is that they are in a position that no one should have to be in: [to be] newlyweds and to be faced with this challenge. It would require a superhuman level of self-sacrifice. And Celestial isn’t a superwoman. She is just a person who is trying to find the balance between sacrifice and self-actualization. In that, she is like everyone who wants to honor her relationship and herself, as well.

The novel reveals how often the justice system is a failure, especially for African Americans, and how easy it is to discriminate against a segment of the population because of skin color. Do you think this is limited to African Americans, or are all minorities vulnerable?

Roy becomes a victim of the presumption of criminality based on race. I think that many groups face this reality, but in different contexts. For example, as a black American, I do not face the same scrutiny in airports as my Arab-American friends. All marginalized groups struggle with discrimination and stereotyping, but we struggle in different ways.

Do you have another book in the works?

I am trying to work on a new novel, but the publicity whirl makes it hard to concentrate. But I am sure that things will settle down soon and I will be able to return to my table and typewriter.
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I had one of my reviewers, Lorilee Craker, cover this one:

Roy and Celestial are living the upwardly mobile, black Atlanta dream when suddenly Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for something he didn't do. The vast majority of marriages don’t make it when one partner is incarcerated. Will Roy and Celestial’s?
Their marriage (and marriage, period) is the laser focus of the novel, but important themes of race and mass incarceration are woven deftly into the story. A page-turner, an Oprah Book Club pick, and a cultural touchstone, An American Marriage provokes empathy, understanding, sorrow, and maybe even advocacy.
Racism and mass incarceration are two cancers in the U.S. right now. Could part of the cure be reading stories that help us understand more about both? Fair warning: This book would be rated R if it were a movie. (Algonquin)
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This book will provide stimulating discussion for a book club and allow all readers to ponder aspects of life that they may not have considered in depth before.  Celestial and Roy are newlyweds on the brink of beginning their exciting lives together..  When Roy is unjustly accused of a crime he didn't commit, their lives quickly begin to unravel.  He is sent to prison where he encounters situations that will transform him forever.  Meanwhile, on the home front, Celestial is having her own adjustment problems and, understandably so.                         
Jones is such a talented writer.  She makes you feel the angst and injustice of the story plot.  Looking forward to her next book!
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I really enjoyed this novel.  What a great introduction into seeing the life of a black man and the many challenges that effect his life and those around  him.  I was so affected by this novel that I had trouble falling asleep just thinking about the main characters and the life that they had lived.
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What a read. A realistic examination of a how a relationship would morph when a horrible wrench is thrown in the mix. Beautifully written with well developed complex characters.
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This has gotten so much buzz but it fell kind of short for me. I loved the premise but ended up being underwhelmed by the content. Moments of brilliant writing contrasted with some that was muddled and convoluted. I feel a little disappointed because I wanted/expected it to be better.
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This is one of my favorite novels ever. The story is so fitting for our troubled times when many white people just aren't getting what's at stake with race relations in 2018. Tayari Jones gives the reader so many issues to think about, not just in a big picture sense, but also when it comes to standing by family and loved ones.
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I really tired to like this book in the end. I really did. I just could never connect with the characters. It had a great start to the book but then it took a wide turn and never corrected itself.
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After finishing this novel, I tried hard to recollect in how many novels did I read that so quietly and poignantly explore the intimacy of marriage with African American characters.  I remember almost ten years ago reading her first two novels and one thing remains the same--her grasp of those quiet moments and the language of the unspoken.  I loved this novel and will continue to support Mrs. Jones work.
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My Rating:  5 Stars

I read Tayari Jones’ previous novel, Silver Sparrow, and enjoyed the book and her writing style, so I was eager to read her latest novel, American Marriage.  Both books are set in Atlanta, and I seem to have strange little connections to both books.  In this most recent one, she mentions a street I used to live on, a date that was my Dad’s birth date, a majorette (I was one in high school), and there was another odd one that I can’t remember now.  Even without the odd connections, her beautiful writing grabs my attention.

Celestial and Roy are a young married couple with big dreams and living a good life.  They grew up with different backgrounds: Roy came from a working class family but received a scholarship to college and is now an executive. Celestial comes from a family with a higher socioeconomic status after her father made it big from an invention.  She is an up and coming artist who makes unique dolls.  They are on a trip back to Louisiana so Celestial can meet Roy’s family when tragedy strikes and he is falsely accused of a crime and arrested because he is a black man.  The book examines race in our culture and how African Americans are treated differently than white people, but it also goes beyond that to explore what happens to a couple early in their marriage facing a difficult battle and what are the ripple effects of injustices not only on the victim but his friends and family.  Should a a spouse remain loyal when her husband has been locked away in jail for years?  How does the marriage change?  The story initially is told in alternating first person narrative between Celestial and Roy but then switches to letters between them and from Celestial’s best friend growing up, Andre, while Roy is imprisoned.

In addition to the compelling writing and story, these characters are real and well-drawn.  I really felt their pain and struggles.  I definitely recommend you read this book, and I think it would be a good book for book groups to discuss.
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I enjoyed this thought provoking #diversespines March selection.  AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE had me on an emotional rollercoaster and I’m still thinking about it 4 weeks later.  Tayari delivered an authentic story with many themes and layers.  Whether you are talking about the roles of fathers, class, education, marriage, black men in America, the American justice system, family or love this book will catapult you into a wide rage of conversations.

Although this book had many layers the most poignant moment for me was after I finished the book.  A friend asked me how did I come to the conclusion that the woman who accused Roy of rape  was a white woman when the author never mentioned race.  I was shocked when I came to the realization that Tayari had not mentioned race & that my conclusion was made totally from life experiences.  My conversation instantly became one of how the title “American” made think about our justice system, the discrimination against black people, the ideology to fear the black man, the myth surrounding black fathers and mass incarceration all played a role in my framing my conclusion. I have since posed this question to other readers & all of the responses vary.  Oh how I love the power of a story.

And then there’s the other word in the title, “Marriage”. During my @litonhst bookclub meeting I was able to see several point of views from readers on how they thought the newness of Roy and Celestial’s marriage, the foundation on which it was built and their backgrounds all impacted their trajectory.  The false imprisonment of Roy had me pondering on what it truly means “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Although I was #TeamRoy, no one really knows how they would react in a situation until they are standing toe to toe with a dilemma. 
Oprah was right, “this story is so juicy you’re going to want to talk to someone about it.” I still need to talk!
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