Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage is at its heart an exploration of loyalty, of marriage and of love. Jones writes in such a sublime way it is hard not to get utterly lost in her world, to let her characters dictate when you eat, sleep and breathe.
An American Marriage is the story of Celestial and Roy; the embodiment of an upwardly mobile couple, as the cover tells us, the American dream. The opening chapters of Jones’ narrative lay out the state of our protagonists marriage prior to Roy being wrongly incarcerated for rape. We then delve into their bond through a series of letters across the five years Roy remains behind bars; We see their love and hope, their pain, their anger and frustration, their misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Jones asks us as readers some very important questions, What does it mean to be married? Is there ever a point at which ones loyalty is no longer expected? When a marriage is tested it will either fall apart or grow even stronger – What happens to Celestial and Roy may well surprise you because it certainly surprised me.
Jones has a remarkable ability to write beautiful dialogue, the conversations within her text are powerful, un-contrived and 100% believable. Her characters are fully filled out and at different points within the narrative each one of them is un-likeable, she creates the most complex and thoroughly uncomfortable situations through out and your perception of each character continues to change across the narrative.
There is a message just bubbling under the surface here and I don’t think its unintentional, this book is about more than marriage, its about more than Celestial, Roy and Andre. Its about Justice and the American justice system. Its a sharp, edgy, honest commentary on the long term consequences of wrongful conviction. Its about the havoc an injustice can reek on our communities and it is an absolute must read.
Jones has written a novel which should be regarded as a work of classic American fiction – she ticks all the boxes needed to have created a stunning work; her setting is vivid and luminous, her characters are well developed, her story is powerful, interesting and beautifully subtle, her timing is exquisite and the twists she has lying on wait for her readers, and nothing short of genius.