Title: An American Marriage
Author: Tayari Jones
Tayari Jones has written a love story that is tender and heartbreaking in equal measure. Celestial and Roy are your average educated, upper-middle-class, upwardly mobile professionals. They are barely past their first year as newlyweds when Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit. The book is written from both their points of view in the form of letters to each other after Roy’s incarceration. It moves between the present and the past in a way that gives us insight into the backgrounds, their relationship, and their marriage.
In Roy, we meet a confident, arrogant, proud and ambitious protagonist, who clearly loves his wife, and in part feels like he married upwards. He details the pride he felt when he was able to ‘sit his wife down’ and let her pursue her passions whilst he earned for both of them. He is driven and invested in both of their different career successes until that unfortunate turn of events.
Celestial comes across as unsure of her place or her ambitions. She becomes stronger and more confident after Roy’s incarceration, launching her career and become a celebrated artist. Their communication is at first light but becomes strained as they try to make sense of their now separate lives.
In the initial years, you feel their desperation in trying to maintain their tenuous connection, even if as it is tinged with veiled resentment about how each feels about their situation. Added to the difficulty of two people steadily growing apart is the presence of André, Celestial’s childhood friend and best friend, who has had feelings for Celestial for years. He becomes the rock that Celestial leans on and falls in love with.
Tayari Jones unravels the marriage at a slow pace, putting blame on neither character, letting the reader remain sympathetic to Roy’s situation but forcing us to pick sides between the two. Even though the author highlights the racially-charged politics of the South and the racial injustice that sees the characters’ lives torn apart, she maintains the love story theme throughout. It is a sad book with a realistic take on the nature of love changing as a marriage falls apart. It exposes the fragility of loyalty and the tinge of desperation that comes with keeping it together even as its fracture is imminent.
A well-written book that made me pause and think about a subject matter that is a brutal reality for many. Highly recommended.