Tayari Jones’ story begins by putting us in the middle of an intense dialogue between a newly- married African American couple, Roy and Celestial.
A few more pages into the book, the plot takes a wildly unexpected turn, which disrupts the lives of the couple.
Rape. An unfair trial. Incarceration. A miscarriage, both literal and figurative.
The intimacy and intensity of their relationship unfolds beautifully in the form of letters to each other. Roy writes from behind prison bars, clinging to visions of his former life and Celestial writes from the free world, where she’s living her dream of a successful artist-entrepreneur.
This epistolary narrative, for me, was the most compelling portion of the book. The letters show the passage of time and their wavering emotions so poignantly and so evocatively, that I simply couldn’t put the book down.
However, roughly mid-way through the book, the story slowed down and the plot came a bit loose. The narrative became plagued with too many distracting details and the story seemed unwilling to move forward.
But the book wrapped up nicely in the last few chapters, cleaning up well after itself. I was happy with the ending, although with all those distractions in the middle of the book, I had managed to think up a very creative (and decidedly twisted) end to the book. I was relieved it didn’t go my way.
Overall, I think it’s a very readable novel, with the three flawed and relatable protagonists, supported by some beautifully etched secondary characters. The book is high on emotion and drama, vivid in its portrayal of small-town African American life and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a refreshing take on love, marriage and intimacy.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction 2019.