Reading between the Lines: An American Marriage
The most impressive work in contemporary American literature this year has got to be Tayari Jones’ new novel, An American Marriage. This much anticipated romance debuted in February and has caused an uproar on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as the author makes appearances at book signings all over the country. She has even received the highest blessing, her novel being chosen as this month’s pic for Oprah’s Book Club, which has catapulted many an author to fame and fortune. This is Miss Jones’ fourth book, and with it, she proves to be a master storyteller.
Using the technique of multiple narrators, she tells the story through the hearts and voices of three characters, Roy and Celestial, a recently married couple who are dislodged by a fateful arrest and imprisonment, and Andre, a best friend to both who winds up trapped in the middle. The novel not only explores the highs and lows of marriage with its awkward moments and need to walk on eggshells, but it is also a searing indictment against mass incarceration and the lack of justice for Black men in the judicial system.
As they recover from an argument, Roy is assaulted by police and charged with a felony, sadly ending with a twelve-year sentence to prison. Despite his innocence, he must learn to adapt and survive on the inside, depending on Celestial’s letters to carry him through. But after a while, the weight is more than she can bear, and she turns to her childhood friend for solace. The story is told through the letters of each of these characters, daily at first, but later becoming less frequent. This lack of communication is at the heart of the book as well as most marriages (hence the title), revealing just as much from what is not said as the words that are spoken out of both love and anger. Needless to say, you just have to keep reading to find out how it all turns out.
Despite her classical name, Celestial is a very modern independent woman who cannot be contained or manipulated by what her husband, her parents, her in-laws, or society says she must do. Love takes many forms in her life, and she is sincere about all of them, so she doesn’t get away without guilt or shame. But in the book we see how she evolves, and in turn, forces those around her to evolve as well. Roy is probably the character who changes most, at first accepting his fate as inevitable, and doing whatever he can to adapt to it, just as he has adapted to their marriage on her terms. But upon his release, we see a different Roy, at first lost, though no longer the country boy who just went along with everything, but a man who feels that life actually owes him something and he wants to fight for whatever that is. To find out what finally happens, of course you’ll have to read the book.
An American Marriage is a great selection for book clubs because there are so many angles to explore. There are characters to love and hate, moral decisions to be judged, and themes about love and marriage to examine and dissect. We can’t help but see something of our own relationships in this story; certain things are just universal, whether you are married or single, young or old, or black or white. If you want a good read that captures the essence of modern romantic relationships today, An American Marriage is the book for you. Check it out, or better yet, buy the book.