Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This week I was supposed to host 2 book clubs. One has been outright canceled and the other is in talks to happen virtually, much to the chagrin of the toddler parent in our group. Last week I posted a review of The Mercies, which I read for my Thursday meeting, and while great doesn’t seem like it will promote much discussion. 

Today I want to talk to you about An American Marriage. 

I will start by saying wow. Just wow. I will trust my friends when they hype up popular books. I won’t ignore them because they become incredibly popular. I will read difficult topics because An American Marriage was such a fantastic and mind blowing experience. 

An American Marriage is a story of 3 people. Ray, who’s life is turned upside down by a wrongful conviction, his wife Celestial, and her best friend Andre. It is a story of black America, love, and longing. It is a story about hurt, betrayal, and duty. It is a story that feels real. 

An American Marriage is an ambitious story. Prison, race relations, family units. All of these topics can go off kilter fast. Jones doesn’t pull punches but she doesn’t dwell. Her success is in creating real characters that you both root for and want to smack. 

Throughout the novel it is easy to root for each character while recognizing they are in the wrong. Everyone is in a shitty situation and it feels so true to life that you can’t blame anyone for their actions. Under anyone else’s hands I suspect Celestial would be a hated woman, but here she is complex and unyielding. She doesn’t always make the right choice or the easy choices but something in between. She is a pillar of realness in fiction and I am kind of obsessed. 

Lastly, I appreciate that this is a story told from 3 perspectives. Seeing the events of An American Marriage through the eyes of all major participants gives clarity and an emotional connection that could have easily been lost through a single POV. I also liked the inclusion of letters as a storytelling device. They moved the story along with enough exposition without taking up pages and pages. 

In short: Don’t be like me. Stop putting off reading this challenging modern classic. Jone’s masterpiece is well worth your time.

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