Excerpt from An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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An American Marriage

by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones X
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2018, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2019, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Excerpt
An American Mariage

Dear Roy,

I'm writing this letter sitting at the kitchen table. I'm alone in a way that's more than the fact that I am the only living person within these walls. Up until now, I thought I knew what was and wasn't possible. Maybe that's what innocence is, having no way to predict the pain of the future. When something happens that eclipses the imaginable, it changes a person. It's like the difference between a raw egg and a scrambled egg. It's the same thing, but it's not the same at all. That's the best way that I can put it. I look in the mirror and I know it's me, but I can't quite recognize myself.

Sometimes it's exhausting for me to simply walk into the house. I try and calm myself, remember that I've lived alone before. Sleeping by myself didn't kill me then and will not kill me now. But this is what loss has taught me of love. Our house isn't simply empty, our home has been emptied. Love makes a place in your life, it makes a place for itself in your bed. Invisibly, it makes a place in your body, rerouting all your blood vessels, throbbing right alongside your heart. When it's gone, nothing is whole again.

Before I met you, I was not lonely, but now I'm so lonely I talk to the walls and sing to the ceiling.

They said that you can't receive mail for at least a month. Still, I'll write to you every night.

Yours,
Celestial

Dear Celestial, aka Georgia,

I don't think I have written a letter to anyone since I was in high school and assigned a French pen pal. (That whole thing lasted about ten minutes.) I know for sure that this is the first time I ever wrote a love letter, and that's what this is going to be, a love letter.

Celestial, I love you. I miss you. I want to come home to you. Look at me, telling you the things you already know. I'm trying to write something on this paper that will make you remember me — the real me, not the man you saw standing in a broke-down country courtroom, broke down myself like a sand castle on a rainy afternoon. I was too ashamed to turn toward you, but now I wish I had, because right now I would do anything for one more look at you.

This love letter thing is uphill for me. I have never even seen one unless you count the third grade: Do you like me yes no. (Don't answer that, ha!) A love letter is supposed to be like music or like Shakespeare, but I don't know anything about Shakespeare. But for real, I want to tell you what you mean to me, but it's like trying to count the seconds of a day on your fingers and toes.

Why didn't I write you love letters all the while, so I could be in practice? Then I would know what to do. That's how I feel every day here, like I don't know what to do or how to do it.

I have always let you know how much I care, right? You never had to wonder. I've never been a man for words. My daddy showed me that you do for a woman. Remember that time when you damn near had a nervous breakdown because it looked like the hickory-nut tree in the front yard was thinking about dying? Where I'm from, we don't believe in spending money on pets, let alone trees. But I couldn't bear to see you crying, so I hired a tree doctor. See, in my mind, that was a love letter.

The first thing I did as your husband was to "sit you down," like the old folks say. You were wasting your time and your talents doing temp work. You wanted to sew, so I made it happen. No strings. That was my love letter, to say, "I got this. Make your art. Rest yourself. Whatever you need to do."

But now all I have is this paper and this raggedy ink pen. It's a ballpoint, but they take away the casing so you just have the nib and this plastic tube of ink. I'm looking at it, thinking, This is all I have to be a husband with?

Excerpted from An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Copyright © 2018 by Tayari Jones. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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