Archive | 10:23 AM

Book Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (4/5)

9 Sep

This was a book club pick that I was excited about. The book had a lot of hype and was part of the Oprah Book Club so it was widely read. As I like it, I knew nothing about the book going on and I think that made the beginning even more intense and thrilling for me. I really enjoyed the ride this story took me on.

Cover image via Goodreads

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Other books by Jones reviewed on this blog:

Silver Sparrow (5/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined.

Yay for short summaries that don’t give away the first plot point! I don’t think I can make the rest of this review as spoiler-free so I apologize. This book took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to involve the desolation of a marriage so soon out of the gate. I wasn’t expecting it to have so many amazing secondary character and I think that’s what really blew me away. I cared deeply about all of the people in this book and what happened to them.

The character’s emotions felt very real to me. They were in a complicated situation and their feelings were equally complicated. You can’t expect a newlywed to feel the same about her marriage after being away from her husband for five years. You can’t expect someone to accept you back into their lives the same way you left them. And you can’t expect parents to understand and approve of every decision you make. The complicated questions this book asked didn’t get easy answers from the characters and I appreciated that.

Big Roy was my favorite character. The way he raised Roy was commendable and the love he had for Olive was beautiful. It was obvious he loved Roy and Olive from his actions but especially from his behavior after Roy went to jail and at the funeral. What he said to Andre after he came back to collect Roy was perfect and he was doing a great job of trying to protect his son and a marriage he believed in. I had so much respect for Roy and I’d love to have him as a father.

I’ve never been in a similar relationship situation to these characters, but their feelings of helplessness were relatable. Roy did as much as he could and made the best of his situation as best he could but he was still helpless. He was the victim of circumstances and those circumstances affected everyone around him. These things happened to Roy, but they affected Celestial, Andre, Big Roy, Olive, and the Davenports. They were all even more helpless to what was happening to them and the effects of Roy’s bad luck.

Tayari Jones
Image via Wikipedia

The story of how Celestial and Roy got together stuck with me. It wasn’t anything overly special, but it was sweet and one you held onto. I’m glad it wasn’t overly showy or not mentioned because it showed a lot about them both. Celestial happened to be at the right place at the right time and something bad happened to her. Roy wanted to save her and was the big, showy gentleman he usually is and Celestial fell in love with that. They were perfectly themselves and, even ten years later when they’re having problems, you can see those two young people in the ones who are fighting to fix their marriage.

The ending almost seemed rushed to me. There was a lot of emotions flying once Andre, Roy, and Celestial were reunited and I was almost lost as to what was happening and how people’s opinions had flip-flopped. I wish it had been slowed down a little for people like me who take some time to process. I think the book being on audio didn’t help because it was harder to stop and go back and reread any part that happened quickly.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis. I liked the dual narrators for the two genders of speaking characters. Crisden did an amazing job of giving Andre and Roy different inflections and manors of speaking so that I almost thought it was three narrators for a moment. Davis gave a good voice to Celestial but I think Crisden’s performance overshadowed hers only because of the range he was able to demonstrate with two male characters.

The book discusses what a marriage is and also what we are entitled to. The marriage Roy and Celestial have faced all imaginable challenges and trials. Is it based on love, a promise, or something else? Roy had everything taken away from him unfairly. What does he deserve upon his release? Should he be able to go back to where he was? Does Celestial owe that to him because of what happened to him? What does their marriage deserve after such a test? I thought these questions were well-posed and made me question my assumptions about relationships.

Writer’s Takeaway: Hard questions make good novels and I think Jones hit this one out of the park. There’s no easy answer to what happens between Celestial and Roy when they face such an injustice. There’s nothing easy about their situation and no precedent to follow. A marriage is a living thing and its health and individual qualities have to be taken into account. The fact that this wasn’t cut and dry is what made it so good and I liked how Jones made me question my beliefs.

A great read and a welcome change from other books I’ve been reading lately. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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