Archive | 10:23 AM

Book Club Reflection: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

12 Sep

I don’t normally cut it close between finishing a book and the book club meeting, but I was really close on this one, finishing the book the morning of the meeting! It was great because the story was fresh in my head. Not sure if I’d do it again, though.

Many of our readers hadn’t read Jones before though I think some will go back to her backlist now. Jones holds a degree from Spellman, which was featured prominently in the book. She’s won the Women’s Prize for Fiction with An American Marriage. This book was also picked for Oprah’s Book Club and President Obama shared it on Facebook as one of his favorite summer reads in 2018. The book is currently being adapted to film but no word yet on the casting.

There was a lot to talk about with this book, a lot of ‘what ifs.’ We did find it strange that Celestial and Andre seemed to think Roy was never going to get out even though Uncle Banks was working on a defense. Did they have no confidence in him? We wondered if the story would have been significantly different had Celestial been the one in jail. Would Roy have been faithful to her? We suspect he may have been emotionally faithful, but he didn’t seem to put much stock in physical faithfulness. He’s mentioned buying lingerie for other women and is very quick to jump to Divina.

We wondered about the woman who accused him of rape. She’s not well described except that she reminds Roy of his mother. Many of us initially thought she was white but looking back at it wondered if she was black. I read that Jones deliberately kept this vague because it shouldn’t matter, but it does make you wonder. Would Roy have opened up as much to a white woman? Would she have reminded him of his mother?

Andre made a point of not apologizing to Roy at the end. We felt that he should have. A lot of other characters called him out for what he was doing to a man who he had at one time considered his best friend. Mr. Davenport and Big Roy were two that come to mind. He was being a bad friend and Big Roy told him he was going to get beaten up and to just take it. I felt he should have said he was sorry.

Celestial is not blameless in the story. She wasn’t a very strong character, often seeming to go with the path of least resistance. She’s talked about as being a strong woman and having learned to be independent at Spellman, but we disagreed. Maybe Andre took advantage of her emotional state at Olive’s funeral, but she wasn’t easily played.

The big question in the novel is if Roy and Celestial could have made it work. We don’t think so. They might have peacefully co-existed, but their relationship was too damaged to have recovered to what it had once been.

We wondered about Celestial and abortion. Did she want to have the abortion, or did she want the baby? We wondered how much she did it because she wanted to or because Roy wanted her to. And if she didn’t want to have it how much did that increase her anger at Roy? It seemed she didn’t want to have the abortion at first, but she also seemed relieved not to have a child with a father in jail.

Another reader pointed out something I missed. Ol’ Hickory was a great representation of a promise. Marital promises break down in the book and Ol’ Hickory is damaged, but both pull through, though not in the way you think they will. I bet that’s why the tree is featured on the paperback cover image.

We talked a lot about the title and what it could mean. One reader thought it referred to the state of marriage in American and how marriages are short and entered into under questionable circumstances. There are a few examples of infidelity as well (Roy, the Davenports). But there were also examples of a long-term marriage in the book, most notably Big Roy and Olive. I felt that it referred to the black experience in America and how mass incarceration of black men makes this story a uniquely American experience. Our group leader pointed out how there are a lot of examples of justice in the book and the ways that people experience social, racial, and personal justice. Many things seem unfair to Andre, Celestial, and Roy and they must find a way to seek their own justice within the American system.

This was a great book for discussion and I’m glad we read it. My mom’s book club is reading it soon, so I’ll have another discussion with her about it shortly.

Until next time, write on.

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