An American Marriage - Tayari Jones
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Release Date: 2018
Setting: Atlanta|Louisiana, USA
My Rating: 5 Stars
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young business 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 suddenly ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined when, while visiting Roy's parents in their small Louisiana town, Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years in prison for a crime Celestial knows he didn't commit.
Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend and Roy's best man at her wedding. As Roy's time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her centre. When, after five years, Roy's conviction is suddenly over turned and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together, Celestial is faced with a soul-wrenching decision: whether to let go and try rebuild a marriage that has lost its underpinnings.
Celestial and Roy have been married for just over a year. They are still finding their footing in this marriage thing so they make mistakes - they offend and hurt each other as is the norm in most marriages, especially in the first year – but they always work it out. They always forgive and move on. They come from different ‘worlds’ but they are deeply in love and have plans for the future. Roy is an ambitious executive on his way up and Celestial is an artist.
On a visit to Roy’s parents’, Roy is falsely accused of rape and sentenced to 12 years in Jail. Celestial knows he is innocent. As they settle in their new normal – Roy in prison serving out his term and Celestial the dutiful wife making the 500 miles drive to see him in prison every now and then, we begin to see the disconnect as they exchange letters. Celestial turns to her childhood best friend and best man at their wedding, Andre, for comfort and so when Roy is released from prison 5 years into his term, they all have to make tough choices.
This story is told in alternating voices of Roy, Celestial and Andre and it draws you in. The characters are well thought out and realistic, I connected deeply with each one of the them and my connection grew stronger as the story unfolded. I loved the letters Roy and Celestial exchanged , as a reader, you could see how they both begun so hopeful, believing that this was just another test and everything would work out, but as they kept writing to each other, their growing hopelessness with the situation was evident, their frustrations with themselves and each other was evident. The disconnect was evident.
I couldn’t wait to finish this book to see how the author resolved this conflict because in my opinion it was unsolvable. I wanted a happy ending for each of the characters. I wanted Celestial to give Roy a break – he had been through so much already. I wanted Celestial and Andre to be happy together – Andre had loved her all his life. I wanted Celestial and Roy to get back together because theirs was real love, but I could see how time had broken them down and changed what was one love into something unrecognizable. I wanted life to pay Roy his dues, to make it right so he could have the life he once had back but life as we know it is not always fair. Most times we get more than we bargained for.
See how this can be confusing?
I didn’t particularly love the ending, but I was happy with it. There was no other way around the situation. This has to be my best read for 2018 so far. A highly recommended read.