An American Marriage

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
"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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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!
Was this review helpful?
This was definitely an interesting story.  The events were really heartbreaking.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
"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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
For those of you who follow my book blog Laurie's Lit Picks, you know I have spent a bit of time over the last couple years reading non-fiction about prison reform (ie Just Mercy and The New Jim Crow) and the need for true justice in America. In a powerful new novel, acclaimed author Tayari Jones brings us a fiction book that explores what happens to a young marriage when it is ripped apart by injustice. Roy and Celestial, a young married couple who are living the American Dream in Atlanta, journey home to Louisiana to visit Roy's parents; a night at a motel leads to a false accusation of rape against Roy and the subsequent conviction and incarceration in a state prison. Told through the voices of Roy and Celestial, and eventually Andre, Celestial's childhood friend and third cog in the romantic triangle of tragedy, this book blew me away. It is a deep character study of how mass incarceration impacts individuals; we see the toll it takes on a young marriage, on Roy's parents, on Celestial's relationship with her friends, family, and her young husband, and most importantly, on Roy's own life as he watches his career, his home, his reputation, his very essence slip away. Told through three powerful voices, this is a compelling profound read on today's justice system and the impact mass incarceration has on black America. I highly recommend this book for book clubs and individuals; it will provide a great deal of provocative material to digest.
Was this review helpful?
Beautifully told, heartbreaking, yet ultimately uplifting, this is the story of a young marriage and the occurrences both within and outside of that relationship that affect not only the two people in the marriage, but also those closest to them. Race, class, gender and societal issues are addressed within the context of the story, which is both timely and timeless. Go into this knowing little to nothing of the book's details so that you can let the story unfold as the narrators tell it to you, each sharing their own perceptions about the events that touch them all and shape them in different ways. Tayari Jones will take you to the southern setting that is a vibrant character of its own and won't let you go until you read the last page.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this, it felt timely and important and the writing was very powerful.
Was this review helpful?
Pardon the structure of this review: sent from my phone. The story is told from Roy, Celestial, and Andres POV. You love and hate them each at different times.

This is a book about family, obligation, and choices- those that are forced upon you and those you want to make. Incredible writing. She brings you into the story quickly and gets you to care and Empathize.

Get to learn about the bulk of their relationship through letters. Fitting, seeing as how that's how they spent most of it. 

Very straightforward way of talking about racism in America. But it's not just about that -  It's telling a story about one specific family.. Would be a good classic book for people to read 100 years from now To see what life was like in America in the south in the 2010s. Beautiful description of time and place. Evocative without being distracting. Does attempt to say something about America, but in the end it's a story of a marriage. 

There are no dates with on letters. We pass the time as Roy must. Dates and times are meaningless - can only tell time has passed via his relationship with celestial. 

Get to see how so much of Roy's identity was wrapped up in things: relationship with celestial, degree, shoes. Scrapped so hard for it. See how embarrassing and demeaning it was for him to need.

Companion read- the new Jim Crowe.

Loved to see how the parents felt- big Roy and Franklin. Men . "Unhand his wife."

This book is heartbreaking and raw and moments sneak up on you. Big Roy throwing dirt on the grave. 

Very aptly named book. Many different types of relationships and families. Not always a choice. 

Add big Roy to best dad's list. He's fighting for his son left and right and is deeply devoted to his wife. 

These are the books I love. This is why I read. Human stories that make me feel alive. 

I will come back later to add a link to my review once I clean it up and post. So moved by this book, I wanted to give feedback asap.
Was this review helpful?
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones starts off with a bang.  Celestial and Roy are newlyweds who are suddenly ripped apart because of a false accusation that turns into a prison sentence for Roy.  This story deals with the aftereffects of the prison sentence on what was a very happy marriage.  We get to know Celestial and Roy as well as other members of their families and friends.  This is a quick and riveting read.  Enjoy!
Was this review helpful?
This was a fascinating story. I feel like it's one of those books where the less you know about it, the better. I can see why this book is being touted as not-to-be-missed. The characters seem so real, and the various depictions of marriage are interesting to consider. This one will stick with me for a long time.
Was this review helpful?
A new novel by Tayari Jones is cause for celebration. Silver Sparrow was one of my favorite books the year it was released and I couldn’t wait to read this new one. But, when I first read the blurb for this novel it didn’t actually get me that excited about reading it. I’m not the guy for stories situated around romance of any kind and I wasn’t sure even the vast talents of Ms Jones could change my opinion of that.

The first 80-100 pages certainly didn’t help once I found out that I would be reading a series of letters between two of the main characters. Did I miss reading somewhere that this is an epistolary novel? Certainly this would be another reason for concern - for me at least. Not to worry, it’s not.

Reading beyond the 100 pages the immense, compelling and captivating storytelling skills of Tayari Jones really takes flight. All of a sudden I was totally immersed in this story of a love triangle (yes, I said love triangle which I usually abhor) between three Atlantans that involves the justice (injustice) system, rape, Louisiana, secrets, lies and more.

What I really like about this novel is where Silver Sparrow seemed to highlight the relationships between girls, women, mothers for the most part. This book seem to be a sort of love letter to young black boys, men and fathers. 

Tayari writes fresh, simple stories that are about everyday life. She reels you in before you realize it and then you're absolutely hooked. I loved this book and I think you will too.
Was this review helpful?
A slow burn of a novel that swept me up and wouldn't let go. We get to know and love the young couple at the heart of the novel before we witness the terrifying scene in the motel, when they are forced to surrender the clear promise of the future they have dreamt of and worked for. Because each character is rendered with such tenderness, and because the injustice they face is one so many innocent black men and their families have faced, the novel has the terrible, resounding ring of truth.

My grandmother was a white sharecropper in Mississippi who told me stories of how her fingers bled from picking cotton. As a young man, my grandfather suffered deep and frequent humiliations for his poverty, But despite the enormous difficulties they faced, I have always been aware that, their skin color granted them certain clear privileges in the pre-civil rights Deep South--namely, the privilege of safety. Jone's story felt personal to me, somehow intertwined with the reality of my family's own complicated history, in a way that few novels do.
Was this review helpful?