An American Marriage

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

The question of what marriage means, what it binds you to and entitles you to, is probably the most fundamental one at issue in Tayari Jones' An American Marriage. It's not the only one, though. The book follows Roy and Celestial, a young black couple married about a year and a half when we first meet them. Their future seems so bright: he's a promising marketing executive, she's an artist beginning to find success with her doll-making. They're thinking about having a baby soon when they leave their home in Atlanta and drive to rural Louisiana to spend the weekend with Roy's parents. Celestial has a bad feeling, but they write it off to nerves. It is the first night they're there that their whole world changes.

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.
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This is the type of book that sticks with you, and makes you rethink your opinions. Days after finishing it, I wasn't sure if I could review it because I am still turning over in my mind exactly what happened and how I should react to it. The title itself, An American Marriage, could refer to multiple themes present in the book. At the novel's core is the marriage between Roy and Celestial, and what makes it specifically American. It could be that they are both black, and Roy ends up in prison, wrongfully convicted, and this is the case for many black families across America. Another option is that Roy and Celestial were married such a short time, which reflects the broader aspects of typical American marriages, that they don't necessarily last long. 

The novel splits between Celestial's and Roy's perspective, with Andre, Celestial's best friend, coming in sometimes. One of the strongest portions of the novel is the letters between Celestial and Roy while Roy is in prison. While oftentimes in epistolary novels, the letters can feel fake and contain far too much information to feel like real people are writing the letters, but not these. In the entire novel, these letters are the best example we have of how Celestial and Roy feel about each other. 

The characters aren't exactly likable. As a reader I wanted them to make different decisions, be more communicative, etc. But that's one of the things that has stuck with me. What drives the characters to act out in such ways? It also forces the reader to come to terms with how intimately prison life affects people, even those wrongfully convicted. All in all, this is a great American novel.
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What are the ties that bind two very different people together?  It definitely wasn't love at first sigh for Roy and Celestial.  But they eventually did fall in love and plan a life together.  Until Roy was wrongfully accused of raping an older white woman and sentenced to twelve years in jail.  

A heartrending story of the deep south where social injustices still exist and families love deeply and unreservedly.  A haunting story of love, ambition and passion that will leave you reeling by it's sheer intensity.
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I will never forget the day that my friend S.C. asked if I'd ever read Tayari Jones. "She's an Atlanta author; I think you'd like her." Of course, I hadn't read her, so I started with her debut, Leaving Atlanta, an emotionally gripping, attention grabbing tale about the Atlanta Child Murders. I moved on to The Untelling, which was so good that I couldn't WAIT until Silver Sparrow was released. I snatched it up on the day of publication and so happily handed it over to Ms. Jones for her to sign it when she came to Atlanta. It remains my favorite of her novels.

But it has been YEARS since she published a full novel, and one misses the good words when there is such a dearth in black fiction. I was overjoyed to hear she had begun working on a new novel, and it took some time, but I want to offer my thanks to the publisher for an advanced copy because I just couldn't wait one more second to dig into this book!

As I always say, I love when I open a book and I am instantly transported into that world, that time. I feel like a fly on the wall, listening to characters talk, watching the action, interpreting and rationalizing. The beginning chapters of this book set the scene-- Celestial and Roy, newly married, in that 'newly married' kind of bliss, still sort of figuring each other out and trying to manage the in-law relationship as well.  On a trip to visit Roy's parents, they decide to stay at a hotel instead of a room at the house where they'd normally stay. Roy has special plans, he wants to show Celestial a special spot. 

I can't help but think that if Roy hadn't been so ambitious with his plans, the story would have a different ending. But it doesn't. Even in the New South,  old thinking exists.  A claim against a black man, true or not, can send that man's life into a tailspin. Celestial finds herself alone-- not a divorcee and not a widow. A married woman whose husband is incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, who is expected to be locked away for quite some time.

There are a few other dynamics that add to the dramatic tension and held my rapt attention. Roy's family structure, for one. Celestial and Roy's relationship for another. I felt that it wasn't strong enough to endure this kind of challenge and pressure. They'd only lived the blissful, dreamy part of love together. They hadn't been through the trial and tribulation of having to live apart, yet committed to one another. And as much as Roy expected Celestial to be 'ride or die' for him, I also felt, through the pages, her slipping away from him, unable to give him the loyalty he longed for and felt, whether or not it was wrong, that he deserved. 

Holy drama, and scandal and tension, Batman. At a certain point, things come to an emotional and physical head and I really wondered how things were going to settle out. I think one of my favorite parts of the book is the letters.  They let the story play out, in the words of Roy and Celeste, even though they couldn't be in the same room. Ms. Jones recently shared a piece about how technology can affect and script communication between characters;  sometimes a novel has to be set in a time and a place that makes communication difficult. At one point in the book, there's no way for one character to contact the other, leading one to walk right into a trap, per se... the tension that that situation built was palpable and effective. 

I think this book has multiple levels and conversation/talking points. Its many facets and depths would be great for a book club discussion. Ms. Jones did a fantastic job with this novel. Like Silver Sparrow, I can see myself reading it again and again, just for the initial enjoyment I felt at reading her words.

This author will be taking this book on tour and I can't wait to see her in Atlanta on February 9th!
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An American marriage was an amazing story about a young newlywed couple just starting to live the American dream when the unthinkable happens. Roy and Celeste are deeply in love and out of town to visit family. When a woman staying at the hotel they are staying at is raped, she thinks Roy is the rapist.  Although Roy was with Celeste all night they can’t convince a jury it wasn’t him. Roy goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit and Celeste is left trying to make a life for herself.

There are so many gripping aspects of this story that I need to point out this realistic look at what incarceration does to a marriage, family, and a career, even if the person incarcerated is innocent. The fact that Roy and Celeste are African American lends even more to this tale of the stigma of incarceration and it’s damning effects.

After meeting the characters and seeing their fate sealed, we are privy to their thoughts and correspondence through intimate letters while Roy is locked up. The letters lay bare this couple’s struggles to stay in love and stay realistic about how hard it is for each of them. This alternate format had me turning pages at a furious pace as we learn so many secrets this couple had.

The book doesn’t stay in letter format for too long. The story mains stays with two main POVs, that of Celeste and Roy with a few chapters in Celeste’s childhood friend Andre’s POV. Andre helps Celeste move forward while Roy is locked up, but he has an ulterior motive. He is deeply in love with Celeste and always has been.

The author has created a complex situation with amazingly realistic feeling characters. Celeste is fiercely independent and has a strong well-to-do supportive family to back her up. Roy was raised by his mother and her husband big Roy who adopted Roy when he was a child. He is very driven and has worked very hard to provide a good life for Celeste and himself. Andre was a good friend to Roy and Celeste and even introduced them. It was easy to become invested in the characters as they all have flaws but are so passionate about what they want.

There were so many unfortunate things in this story, but the true crime is the stealing of a young man’s life in the name of justice without real proof. Their marriage and Roy’s big career plans get destroyed while Roy is locked up. The wheels of justice turn so slowly for Roy and eventually he is found innocent and is released, but by then his whole world has changed. All the characters in this story change and grow throughout this ordeal, even the parents are affected, showing just how far out people are affected by incarceration.

This was such an eye opening book about how fast a life can be completely changed. Some of it was sad to read but I think the author left the characters in the perfect place. Right where they needed to be. I highly recommend this heart-wrenching yet beautifully told story.
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Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are living a comfortable life in the South when their world turns upside down one evening. Sleeping in a motel after visiting Roy's parents, Roy is accused of committing a crime that Celestial is positive he did not commit. Told through multiple point of views, An American Marriage details the struggles couples face when put under unimaginable circumstances.
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After reading this, I'm left wondering what the author's purpose was. There is so much going on that "An American Marriage" just seems to simple. Honestly, I wish she had delved a bit deeper into the dynamics of marriage. That is the central theme of the novel, but it's glossed over and buried beneath the letters the POVs of the various characters. I think this novel is more of a testament to love and all of its hardships as opposed to marriage, or specifically an American marriage. And I still don't understand why that is specified. How is an American marriage different from other marriages? I loved the characters, but I felt that the main male characters needed a bit more depth.
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This was one of my most anticipated winter reads as I'm so drawn to stories about innocent people in prison. While I usually read non-fiction stories involving this topic I couldn't wait to see how it was explored by Jones in this fictional story. I'll admit I had a little bit of a hard time getting into the flow of the story in the beginning and I think that was due to the writing style and possibly the character's voices. We are initially introduced to Roy and Celestial in the first year of their marriage with occasional backstory of how they met interspersed. The narrative switches perspectives between both Roy and Celestial so we get to "hear" from both of them. The glimpses we get of their  marriage were intriguing because I found myself wondering if perhaps Roy was more invested in the marriage than Celestial. 

As the story progressed, I began to like it even more, especially when Roy was unjustly convicted...it was tragic and I can't imagine how that would affect not just Roy and Celestial but their marriage and their extended families. Everyone was traumatized. I'm going to be honest, once Roy went to prison and the story shifted to quite a lot of letter writing between the two as well as quite a bit of what felt like emotional examinations of everyone's feelings, the story took on a meandering pace for me. By the halfway point, I found my mind wandering and I started to skim many sections. For me, this can be my struggle with literary fiction...I love the story and really want to just get to it and find out what happens to Roy, who will Celestial ultimately choose, and what will become of their marriage...instead the narratives meander to the distant past and to details of their everyday living that I just struggled staying interested in.

As the story neared the end, I'm not sure I fully connected with the ending but I will say Roy's character...his fate and his future...is what kept me reading and hoping things would turn around for him. This was a really well conceived storyline that shed light on how our justice system can and does ruin lives. Unfortunately, I didn't love it like I expected to and finished feeling pretty middle of the road.
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An American Marriage begins by introducing readers to newlyweds Roy and Celestial, who come from totally different backgrounds. While Celestial was born into a family that had built itself up to a place of success and respectability in the suburbs of Atlanta, Roy’s story is much more humble. The two are married for a short eighteen months when Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit while he and Celestial are in Louisiana visiting Roy’s parents. He is sentenced to twelve years in prison, and his and Celestial’s lives are torn apart and their marriage left hanging in the balance.

An American Marriage is my first experience with reading Tayari Jones’s writing, and it won’t be my last. The narrative of the book is varied. During the time prior to Roy’s imprisonment and the time after his release, the book is broken into sections for first-person tellings by Roy, Celestial, and Andre, who is Roy’s friend from college, Celestial’s lifelong friend, and the man who first introduced the two. During Roy’s time in prison, the story is told through letters between him and Celestial. Jones’s decision to structure An American Marriage this way was an excellent one for several reasons. The first, and perhaps the most compelling, is the way that readers are able to understand each character’s point of view in a meaningful way throughout the book. This understanding left me torn, from beginning to end. In the beginning, the love and respect Roy and Celestial share is evident through their thoughts about their relationship and their feelings for one another. Once Roy is released from prison and the effects of his and Celestial’s time apart become apparent, I found this method to be even more powerful. With each character’s section, I found myself struggling with my own opinion of their situation and what I thought the outcome should be.

As much as I connected and empathized with the characters, however, I also felt the natural detachment from their thoughts that their experiences might naturally create. For example, Roy’s experiences while in prison are only told through his letters to Celestial, and after his release, he doesn’t allow himself to think about some of the things that occurred while he was inside except in bits and pieces, during brief moments when the thoughts slip in unnoticed. Celestial’s thoughts reflect her reserved personality, and their change from prior to Roy’s imprisonment to after show how her identity as a strong, independent woman shifts as a result of Roy’s arrest. As perhaps the most genuine and unfiltered of them all, Andre’s thoughts reveal that his behavior is authentic to his feelings, and his inability to accept responsibility for his own role in Roy and Celestial’s marital problems is a result of his naive belief in the power of love.

The sections of the book that are told through letters between Roy and Celestial also make a powerful statement. As the letters progress, readers begin to notice the growing distance between the two of them, and the letters demonstrate the struggle they experience as they try to connect emotionally without being able to be together physically. The issues they experience that tend to be typical for many newlyweds, such as issues with in-laws and differing ambitions, are exacerbated by Roy’s imprisonment, especially once readers discover details about a difficult choice they had to make soon after Roy’s sentencing that had a lasting effect on their relationship. By not allowing readers to know Roy’s and Celestial’s thoughts during this time and limiting them to the letters they write, Tayari Jones makes a powerful statement about the growing rift between them.

What makes this book even more powerful is that An American Marriage is about so much more than Roy and Celestial’s marriage. Jones has also created a powerful commentary on the issues facing young black men in America and the ways the American judicial system is stacked against them. Roy was innocent and lost everything as a result. Jones not only showed the effects of his imprisonment on his material possessions and relationships, but she also did an excellent job showing the effects that prison had on his mental state and personality, and the state of Louisiana did nothing to atone for his unfair conviction or the destruction of the life he knew as a result. Roy Hamilton is representative of a much larger population of Americans who are arrested and convicted unjustly, simply because of the color of their skin.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is one of the most honest novels I have read. The characters are deeply flawed, and they make their fair share of mistakes. Sometimes they acknowledge those mistakes, and sometimes they do not, and they make readers wonder what they would do in their shoes. This is an excellent book with layers upon layers of profound commentary, and it would be well worth anyone’s time to read it.
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I knew by reading the synapse of this book it could be really good or an epic fail. Luckily, it was definitely really good. It's beautifully written and i found myself re-reading certain sentences and paragraphs because it was so almost poetic. It reminded me a lot of The Mothers -- the culture, the protagonists and the love triangle.
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I quite enjoyed this book about a man who is recently married, and then incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit. Can the marriage survive the long distance, and non-contact of his imprisonment? Should both parties ever believe they have a chance to recoup what they once had? All too often this happens, particularly to the African American men in our communities. Their ties to family are broken and may never recover. What does the rest of the family do? Wait? Move on? Can they? The characters in this book are so likable, you WANT things to turn out right for them. The system however is responsible NOT the people caught up in the system that ends up directing their future. Decisions are made that effect both people, and their marriage. Something that is happening all the time in our country and something that has to stop. Tayari Jones did an excellent job at character development. We care about the couple, the community, and calls us to seek change in the system that not only wrongfully imprisons people, but imprisons people's futures. 
Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy for an honest review.
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An American Marriage read like modern-day classic. I can see that this is a novel that will continue to influence readers for generations, if it gets the attention it deserves. Before I read this novel, I checked a few reviews on Goodreads, and one of them suggested reading this novel as blindly as possible. As soon as I read that, I stopped reading reviews and began reading the book. I think that is good advice. I think picking this one up without knowing too much information helps it to unfold organically, without any preconceived ideas. And while there were some aspects of the novel that seemed too coincidental at times, I found myself deeply enthralled by each page. I think it's a story I won't soon forget.
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"An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones explores a marriage torn apart by a wrongful conviction. The novel is told in jail letters and from character perspectives, but the neutral narrator voice would've heightened the emotions to really capture what's involved when a black man goes to prison for a crime he didn't commit.

Roy and Celestial come off as a mismatched couple who originally met as students at Morehouse College and Spelman College (my alma mater) in Atlanta respectively but married years later after a chance reunion. While visiting Roy's parents in Louisiana, they stay in a hotel where they get in a fight. Roy goes to get ice to cool down and helps a white woman in her room. They hold a friendly conversation, then he leaves. But hours later, the police knock down the door to Roy and Celestial's room, charging him with rape of the white woman he had helped earlier. Roy spends five years in prison until his conviction is overturned. While Roy is in jail, Celestial becomes a famous doll maker and falls in love with their mutual friend, Andre. So when Roy gets out, he finds his wife in love with another man, and a disoriented confrontation ensues. 

The story is interesting, but the way it's told took away from it a little. One example is the pivotal arrest scene, which is told after the fact, in Celestial's voice when a neutral narrator's voice could've brought the reader into the moment to feel the impact it would have throughout the story. The face-off between Roy and Celestial is told in their voices along with Andre's voice when again a neutral narrator voice could've provided all the sides in the moment. Roy's prison days were told in letters when maybe a few letters could be shared with day comparisons from a neutral narrator, e.g. a day with Roy in prison and that same day with Celestial outside. Overall, the story has the emotion, but it feels watered-down due to the writing style.
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Damn, this book was good. It alternates perspectives across three characters, and it's ultimately a story about love. The love you feel at the beginning of a marriage. The love you feel when it's unrequited and then fulfilled. A fatherly love. The love of saying goodbye. Love that is lost.

This was about to be a 4-star book for me until the epilogue, which I felt really brought the book together and gave it a closure that I really appreciated. Jones has this incredible way with prose where she makes the most astute observations sometimes, and alternates them with language that is evocative yet compact.

An American Marriage is what I had hoped The Course of Love by Alain de Botton would be.
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An American Marriage is gut-wrenching, with artful and beautiful writing. I loved it and was impressed over and over again by Jones' creativity. On top of all this, the story of black men and mass incarceration is incredibly relevant. I can't recommend it highly enough!
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This was definitely an interesting story.  The events were really heartbreaking.
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Married just over a year, Roy, a young executive and Celestial, an artist are a black couple getting their rhythm as husband and wife.  One day Roy is arrested for a crime he didn't commit. He is tried, convicted and is sent to prison. While they await the appeal process, Roy makes the best of prison life in Louisiana while Celestial must try to adjust to life on the outside without Roy.  When Roy is a free man, 5 years later, he hopes to return to Celestial and resume their life together but, does time change what this young couple once had?

A well-written, timely novel about racial injustice and the how it affects a marriage.
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This is the first book I’m reading by Tayri Jones and after reading it I know it won’t be the last. 

An American Marriage is a story that could be anyones. A newlywed couple’s life gets upended when the husband is found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit. A crime that sends him away for over a decade. The story asks how does a marriage survive that? Can it? Should it? Jones expertly navigates through the perspective of Celestial, a doll maker who is on the rise and her husband Roy a successful ex-playboy who has big plans to start a family and open a shop for his wife to sell her dolls in. When Roy is sent away to prison the two communicate through letters as time and distance slowly wears them down forcing them to face some ugly truths and causing Celestial to lean on her best friend Andre for comfort. I absolutely loved this story—It broke my heart, frustrated and angered me but most of all it made me wonder what I would do in their shoes. It made me question who was the victim here? There’s so many different topics to touch on within the story like incarceration, infidelity, honor, racial injustice and social economics it’s definitely going to be a book club favorite. 

Honest review of an ARC edition.
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"You can never really unlove somebody. Maybe it changes shape, but it's there."

We're less than a week in, but I've found one of the best books of the year. An American Marriage is an exquisitely written account of three people in love and how their lives and relationships are affected when one, Roy,  is sent to jail when wrongfully convicted of the rape of an older woman. His wife, Celestial, eventually decides that she cannot remain married to him, and tells him so three years into his 12-year sentence. However, two years after that, Roy is finally freed thanks to the efforts of Celestial's uncle. Roy goes home to see his wife (and her new fiancé Andre) to try and convince her to give them one last chance.

Within the intricacies of this strange relationship is the understanding of how race has impacted the lives of these three people. Roy was damned from the moment a white woman accused him of her rape, becoming yet another victim of the stilted US justice system. He becomes yet another victim when his wife abandons him in prison (no mention of the times he metaphorically abandoned multiple times in the 18 months they had together before his conviction). The characters in this book are all driven by their identity as African Americans, an undercurrent of awareness that their experience of the American Dream is already different from what others may consider 'normal.'

"Roy is a hostage of the state. He is a victim of America. The least you could do is unhand his wife when he gets back ... You want this man to come home after five years in the state penitentiary for some bullshit he didn't even do, and you want him to come back and see his wife with your little ring on her fingers and you talking about you love her? I'll tell you what Roy is going to see: he is going to see a wife who wouldn't keep her legs closed and a so-called friend who doesn't know what it is to be a man, let alone a black man."

This book is an emotional tour de force that I would recommend to every fan of contemporary fiction. It dragged my heart through the ringer and left me breathless at the final confrontation between these three passionate people. The only complaint I have is that the epilogue seemed to wrap things up a little too-tidily, but not nearly enough for me to deduct even half a star from my rating. Pre-order this book, today.
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My first five-star read of 2018. It's not often that I read a literary fiction with my heart pounding until the last lines. The characters Jones writes are so compelling and real that I feel like if I read the book again they just might have changed their conversations and actions.

An American Marriage follows three main characters: Celestial, Roy, and Andre. After being married only 18 months, Celestial and Roy are driven apart by a false rape accusation which sends Roy to jail. Andre, who introduced the couple, becomes an integral connection between them while the Roy is imprisoned. Once released, Roy has to put the pieces of his life back together. Is Celestial still his wife? Is he still the man he was? These questions are far more complicated than they appear at first.

Jones weaves the narratives of these three characters together in heart-breaking ways, bringing up ideas of family of origin versus family of choice. One interesting thread connecting each part of the plot is the way that parents shape our perception of family and marriage, and the people that we come to be as adults. 

Loved, LOVED this one. Will be suggesting it to everyone.
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