This book has been on my radar for a while for a number of reasons, one of which being that President Obama listed it on his summer reading list in 2018. (Remember when presidents would share their summer reading lists? George W. Bush had a hefty reading habit as well. The current administration hasn’t shared one. So there’s that). I’m going to kick it over to President Obama’s one-sentence summary to get this review started. “An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.”
This was a surprisingly light read of heavy subject matter. Jones deftly shifts the POV in each chapter mostly between Roy and Celestial as they ponder how it all went wrong. (You know early on that this won’t end well, and the cracks are evident right away). Neither of them are terribly likable people and they don’t seem to bring out the best in each other, but for me that just made the story more realistic and interesting. This wasn’t a beautiful supportive people ripped apart by tragedy. This was the story of a troubled couple impacted by a tragedy. In that way, the wrongful conviction was almost mundane, beside the point, just one of that paths that a black man’s life can take in the United States.
That for me is the impact of this book, seeing the matter-of-fact acceptance by the characters. It reminded me somewhat of a modern Revolutionary Road, but this was less an indictment of modern times and more so exactly what it is titled, a description of an american marriage.