The R&R Journal: An American Marriage - A Review
“But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch” (Jones, p. 4)
An American Marriage is a beautiful and complex story about marriage and its impact on the self. Tayari Jones takes a known plot line and offers her readers a challenge on what loyalty and commitment looks like. Note, if this is where you are starting, I encourage you to check out my introduction to this new series and a glimpse of what these reviews will explore.
Back to An American Marriage. Before I jump in, here’s a quick synopsis of the novel: Celestial and Roy are a young, black, ATL couple who within two years of marriage are forced apart when Roy is wrongfully conviction when they visit Roy’s family in Louisiana. Sentenced to twelve years in prison, Celestial and Roy’s marriage hits an extremely rough patch and Celestial takes comfort in her childhood best friend Andre. Time passes, and Roy is released early serving only five years of his sentence. With Roy returning to Atlanta to pick up where he left off, Celestial finds herself torn between continuing what was or letting it all go.
Plot Development and Progression/Flow
First, when I read the synopsis I wasn’t certain I really wanted to read the book. I could tell it wouldn’t be an easy or comfortable read. I embarked on the journey anyway. I found that Tayari did a beautiful job of engaging me in the story. The plot develops well and at a steady pace. It’s not too slow filled with laborious backstory or unnecessary details. It’s not too fast that I felt I was missing significant details to be invested. It was well balanced and flowed nicely even as she went between present day and flashbacks.
Character Development and Engagement
The characters that make up An American Marriage are varied and beautifully multifaceted. In reading the novel, I find that both Celestial and Roy are round, dynamic characters, meaning, they are both complex and intricate changing throughout the story. I would have to say that the antagonist of this story isn’t a person versus a circumstance that unearths deep rooted truths and realities about both Celestial, Roy, and their marriage.
I think Tayari did a wonderful job in developing the characters. I found myself invested and engaged with each of their voices. I could see from beginning and end clear growth in each character, specifically Celestial and Roy. They weren’t far-fetched. From how she described them to their dialogue to how they showed up in each moment of the story, you could feel and connect with them even if you didn’t agree or like what was happening. Many times, I talked back to the book. It was very easy to step into their space and process, seeing from their side of the story and experience.
The good stuff---the icing
Y’all. I love love LOVE Tayari Jones’ writing style. I’m a huge fan of beautifully structured sentences with simple yet powerful choices of words and imagery. An American Marriage is FULL of all of that. Tayari’s use of imagery was not overbearing or fluff. Again, very simple yet you caught the image in your mind’s eye. An example for me would be this:
“Standing on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, I memorized her----the shape of her lips and the purple tint of her lipstick, which matched the streaks in her hair. I knew her accent, southern but not too much, and I knew her shape, thick through the hips but slim on top. I had said her name was “something old timey,” but I should have said “something classic.” I could remember the feel of her name on my mouth, like the details of a dream.” (Jones, p. 139)
Can we just lean into that moment? In the above quote, Roy is speaking, flashing back to when he and Celestial met. I remember reading this and literally swooning. Jones pulled me in with each sentence. I was there on the sidewalk with Roy. I could see him and Celestial. I could feel the moment and the cadence of his thoughts.
There are so many more paragraphs and sentences where Tayari draws you in with her simplistic imagery and intentional sentence structuring.
All in all, Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage is a beautifully crafted work. This was my first read by her and I will definitely be getting her first novel, Silver Sparrow. I am a fan of her writing style and the progression of her work. There were times where I felt my heart aching with the characters. I cried. I laughed. I rolled my eyes. I talked back. You name it. Jones does a wonderful job of drawing you in and keeping you there. I never found myself disengaged from the story or the characters. I found myself challenged and while I didn’t necessarily agree with the characters and have a very different view of marriage, the self, and all that, it was a hard but honest story. I found myself chewing on what does being true to oneself look like in marriage or how does one stay connected to who they are at their core while being in a marital relationship, which, in my opinion, is a union sanctioned by God and anchored in many things, selflessness being one. Does selflessness mean you lose yourself?
Listen. I have all the questions and I’m working out my answers! But that’s how good An American Marriage was in my opinion. When you can read a novel and ask hard questions about how you may view a situation, societal construct, or perspective, I think you’ve found a winner.
So, would I recommend this book? Yes! If you are looking for something that reads at a good a pace, is beautifully crafted, with engaging and complex characters An American Marriage is for you.
My biggest takeaway? 1) Marriage is hard work y’all. Add a traumatic event or experience and it’s a real process. Not impossible but truly a journey. 2) The story offers you an invitation to inquiry. My beliefs and views on marriage haven’t changed, but I find myself asking and pondering many questions like those above.
Have you read An American Marriage? If not, will you? Let’s look at those questions above! I’d love to hear your thoughts on: what does being true to oneself look like in marriage or how does one stay connected to who they are at their core while being in a marital relationship? Does selflessness mean you lose yourself?