Roy and Celestial are newlyweds, a year into marriage with the world at their feet until tragedy strikes. Roy is wrongfully sentenced to 12 years in prison and life as they know it shatters. An American Marriage is a powerfully addictive and moving character-driven novel that follows three people as they love, learn and grow and doesn’t shy away from exploring the difficulties lovers encounter when life unfolds vastly different to their expectations. Roy and Celestial’s story is heartbreaking in many ways but I think, ultimately, hopeful.
‘how you feel love and understand love are two different things’
While the focus is primarily on Roy, Celestial and Celestial’s childhood friend Andre, Tayari Jones weaves all kinds of love into this novel. The families of all three central characters are present and come to life just as much as they do. While I didn’t find the main characters to be all that likeable I really felt connected to them and went through a lot the emotions they did. It’s hard to agree with a lot of their choices, but they are human and humans have flaws. By the end I felt bereft, the end of the novel is not abrupt, but Jones does such an expert job of placing the reader in the scenes that I was left with a whirlwind of emotions long after I had finished. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time.
‘If you have a woman, you recognize when you have said the wrong thing. Somehow she rearranges the ions in the air and you can’t breathe as well.’
The writing is so emotive and visual without being overly descriptive. The quote above demonstrates how easily Tayari Jones depicts how the atmosphere changes during an argument when the wrong this is said. This is a universal experience and is instantly recognisable. Descriptions like these root you in the characters’ world and you feel like you’re living the story with them. The chapters are told from the point of view of each of our three protagonists with letters used to show the passage of time during Roy’s incarceration. This works really well and shows us how time and distance can effect a relationship when letters are sometimes the only way to communicate.
‘ “Sometimes when you like where you end up, you don’t care how you got there.” “No,” I said. “The journey matters.” ‘
If you look up the blurb of An American Marriage you are given the bare bones of the story and you may go into it thinking you’ll pick sides and root for one person or couple over the other, I know I did. But Tayari Jones weaves the tale so skilfully that while I felt very connected to and emotionally invested in the characters, I also felt omniscient enough to understand that they had all made mistakes and life can’t be neatly wrapped up. If you have read the blurb, you will know Roy is released early and that this will cause complications for Celestial who is trying to move on with her life. You can guess at how it ends, but it really is the journey that matters.