An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Book Review)
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An American Marvel
An American Marriage is a hard book to ignore. That shiny "Oprah's Book Club" sticker pulls you in, just long enough to read the dust jacket. It must be good, right? Knowing very little about Tayari Jones before her book blew up, I'm grateful that her beautiful writing is being celebrated.
Jones is an award-winning graduate school professor. She has been printed in The New York Times (and others), received multiple fellowships, and has four published novels to her name. An American Marriage is Jones' most recent book released earlier this year.
Set in the contemporary South, Roy and Celestial are a year into their imperfect but loving marriage. Unforeseen circumstances place Roy in the wrong place at the wrong time, and then, in a courtroom as the sole suspect in an assault case. Sentenced to 12 years, he and Celestial fail to make their relationship work. But after five years, the case is overturned and Roy is set free. Can they put their marriage back together after they declared it was over?
There are two reasons why I loved this book:
First, the writing was superb. It created the images in my mind without me forcing the scenes or pausing the narration to go back. Everything flowed nicely from one idea to the next. Jones created a seamless continuity between multiple viewpoints and writing styles. She built a rich foundation to talk about social issues (policing in black communities, social mobility, Historically Black Colleges, Black success) underneath an engaging story of star-crossed lovers.
The story is familiar enough to bring you in and different enough to keep you asking what will happen next. I wasn't rooting for anyone in particular because it felt as if everyone's feelings were valid. I wanted to be Team Celestial, but I couldn't stand to watch her fail to make one decision after the other. I'm not really Team Roy or Team Andre either, but I felt their pain in this magnificent book.
Each character feels whole, their actions fitting nicely into their established histories. They had their own individual dialects and interacted with each other in unique ways as if not actually written but lived. I never felt like anyone was stepping out of line from their moral compass, but of course, felt the occasional frustration with a character's decisions.
Second, and it's weird to admit this, but it felt like a full production because I listened to it on audiobook. I loved this audiobook and it's available right now on Hoopla. I have never said that before about any other recorded book and I still think most are extremely boring to listen to. But with two narrators and a deep understanding of what was needed to bring this story to life, I would recommend this book, this audiobook, to almost anyone.
I have no negative thoughts about the experience at all. I was engaged for the entire length of the book and I enjoyed the ending. There is no surprise as to why this became one of Oprah's picks. You would lose nothing to stop what you're doing right now and read this book.
Have you read this book yet? Tell me what you think of my review in the comments below.