Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

9780143789604.jpgAn intimate, spellbinding and heartbreaking story of a romance distorted by racial prejudice and the failure of the criminal justice system.

Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage is a haunting masterpiece; a stunning, first-rate piece of literature that will make you think and feel. Ostensibly the story of a marriage interrupted by a grievous mistake, this is a timely work about what it means being black in contemporary America.

Roy O. Hamilton Jr. grew up in a working-class family in Louisiana, and earned himself a scholarship to Morehouse College. As he says, “if my childhood was a sandwich, there would be no meat hanging off the bread. We had what we needed and nothing more.” Roy worked hard to reach his place in life, he earned his successes, and was determined to work harder. It was an ingrained mindset. When he married Celestial Davenport, she was an up-and-coming artist, and after a year of marriage, they were considering buying a larger house and starting a family; the personification of the American Dream. Until it all came crashing down the night Roy was arrested for a crime he did not commit. Despite promises, by man and wife, that both would remain faithful and resolute throughout the duration of Roy’s incarceration, cracks begin to form in their relationship as it’s put to the ultimate test.

An American Marriage begins with chapters written from the points of view of its two main characters, but Jones changes the pace and encapsulates the erosion of their marriage through a series of letters between Roy and Celestial. The novel reverts back to its original narrative structure when Roy is released from prison, with the addition of a new voice: Andre, Celestial’s best friend since childhood, and now something more. An American Marriage reaches its heartrending apex here, as all three characters are faced with reality and the state of their lives; all three question the nature and validity of their love; nobody walks away a winner.

Jones’s characters are vividly depicted; equally empathetic, sometimes selfish and altogether beguilingly human. Readers will inevitably yield to their charms. An American Marriage is magisterial: intimate, effortless, and confronting. Vitally, the story of Roy, Celestial and Andre feels complete and whole despite Jones’s emphasis on the inherent brokenness of their situation.

ISBN: 9780143789604
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Vintage (Australia)
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 29-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: Australia