Updated: Jan 30, 2020
AUTHOR: Tayari Jones
PUBLISHER: Algonquin Books
PUBLISHED DATE: February 6, 2018
This is the perfect book club book, so it is very fitting that Oprah has chosen it as her book club pick for 2018.
American Marriage is about so much more than nuptials or the hyper-analytical minutiae that annoy suburban spouses. This book examines the tenuous subject of class within the African American community, and how, in this one couple, an injustice brings down a family and the life strivings of a middle class black man.
Roy and Celestial are proud HBCU graduates. Roy is gainfully employed, enjoys random flirations with women, and the passionate attention of his wife. Celestial is an artist in demand, the daughter of a millionaire inventor, and whose middle class status is more firmly cemented than her husbands. One night changes the course of the newlywed's marriage when Roy is falsely accused of raping a woman. Roy is quickly apprehended and incarcerated where he meets a significant figure from his personal history. In some ways, this helps him to cope with the situation he's found himself in, and to learn about pieces of himself and his background he didn't know before. When his wrongful incarceration is overturned, and Roy returns home he tries to grasp at the last vestige of his former life...his wife.
This story, told in alternating voice, and mostly through letters, gives a nuanced and complex depiction of life in the modern South. In this contemporary South, black people, with their prestigious HBCU degrees, can carve for themselves lives with all the creature comforts, nurturing family and social scene, and opportunities not afforded the ones who paved the way for them. Celestial quickly realizes, while visiting her husband in jail, and going through all of the dehumanizing rituals afforded prisoners wives, that her husband has entered into lower caste. She has to decide for herself if she is willing to strip herself of her status for the benefit of his love.
Particularly endearing is Jones' portrayal of loving black fathers. Whether they be prison fathers, or absent fathers, or step-fathers, or present fathers...they are all striving to give the best of themselves - no matter how misdirected or admirable.
Ultimately, this was an enjoyable novel and I'm sure I'll be discussing it with tea and crabcakes at more than a few book club brunches.
Recommendation: Read it! It's a spellbinding conversation starter with lots of heart.
Audience: Millennials and Beyond