The BookBrowse Review

Published May 15, 2019

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones
6 Feb 2018
320 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books
ISBN-13: 9781616208684
Genre: Novels
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An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward - with hope and pain - into the future.

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young 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 ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn't commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy's time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy's conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control.

First published in hardcover & ebook in 2018.

Some of the recent comments posted about An American Marriage. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Please be aware that this discussion will contain spoilers!

Andre insists that he doesn't owe Roy an apology for the way his relationship with Celestial changed. Do you agree? (21 responses)

Andre had a thing for his next door neighbor Celestial but never followed through with it despite his mother's advice. Also, Celestial treated the relationship as brother/sister. In college, Roy asked Dre many times if there was more to the relationship and Dre said no. Also, Celestial's father ... - bill

Do you feel that Andre is ultimately a better match for Celestial? If so, why? (14 responses)

They were friends and sometimes being a friend makes for a better relationship than love alone - Beth350

Do you feel that Big Roy and Walter deserve equal credit for how Roy turned out? If not, which was the more important figure in his life and why? (14 responses)

I don't think the question should even be about equal credit. Big Roy adopted him and raised him as his own and he was the only one really waiting for him when he got out of prison. Walter looked after him in prison and they did maintain a relationship even after Roy's release. This leads me to ... - scottishrose

Do you feel that Celestial and Andre will be better at parenting than Celestial and Roy would have been? If so, why? (9 responses)

Well, it’s clear that Celestial does not want to marry again. Maybe she wants to be with a man that she loves, but at the same time, be independent as she always was. Maybe she fears that she can’t be a true wife. Andre respects her decision, but if it were for him, they would have immediately ... - lilliantpr

Do you feel that Roy's response to Celestial when she asks if he would have waited for her is valid? Do you think he would have remained faithful if she had been the one in prison? (10 responses)

I don't think he would have remained faithful to her for even as long as she remained faithful to him. He was a bit of a playboy in his college years and I think he would have fallen back into old habits - scottishrose

Do you feel the title accurately represents the novel? If you do find the title appropriate, what about the story makes it particularly "American"? (13 responses)

What is an American marriage? Although Roy and Celestial's marriage is obviously the one most discussed, there are a number of others, as pointed out by Nancy, in the book, which all take place in America. However, couldn't all of the types of marriage relationships occurred in other countries - bill

Do you think that Andre strategized to get Celestial to fall in love with him, or did it happen naturally? Do you think her parents will come to accept him? (9 responses)

I don't think that Andre strategized to get Celestial to fall in love with Him. I think Andre was always close to Celestial. He was always there for her, in good times and in bad. I recall that at the beginning when Celestial had that argument with Roy, that he left the room, Roy knew that Celestial... - lilliantpr

Do you think that Celestial is justified in her silence regarding Roy's role in her career as an artist? (15 responses)

I think Walter was very wise when he told Roy that Celestial was justified in her silence and I also think the same way.
Saying the truth could have ruined Celestials career and she needed money to support herself and Roy in prison.
Walter tells Roy that her potential for advancement in her ... - lilliantpr

Do you think that Celestial made the right decision with regard to Roy towards the end of the novel? (7 responses)

I understand that she was very sorry for Roy because of everything that had happened to him and that at the bottom of her heart she wanted to give her marriage a shot. She knows that she owes him something. Therefore, it was the right decision, it was a way of giving themselves the last opportunity ... - lilliantpr

Do you think that Olive had the authority to make the decision regarding having children with Big Roy? And do you feel she was right in making that decision? (14 responses)

I tend to think that that women should have the choice regarding what to do with their bodies and obviously having a child is one of those decisions. However, I don't think she really gave him as much credit as she might have = a mutual decision would have be preferable - Beth350

Do you think that Roy and Celestial would have stayed together had Roy never been accused of a crime? (18 responses)

Possibly, but I'm inclined to think that as each became successful in their own professions, it would have driven a wedge between them. And I don't think that either of them had a particularly good understanding of the needs and the wants of the other - scottishrose

Have you ever been separated from someone you loved for a period of time? If so, what were the circumstances, and what was it like when you were reunited? (9 responses)

The only time I was separated from my husband was for a few months while we were moving from Ohio to Oregon. He left to start his job and find us a place to live, while I packed up the house. It was odd the first time I saw him again - it was almost like a dream, someone I knew yet didn't. It was... - kimk

Have you read any other works by Tayari Jones, and if so, how does this novel compare? (13 responses)

I read the Silver Sparrow when it first came out and I think that it addressed the issue of multiple "wives" that is stereotypical of Black men. the premise that the girls would meet was unique but I don't think that the book was as well developed as An american Marriage. it gave me much... - shirleyf

How did you picture the woman who accused Roy of rape? What difference does the race of this woman make in the way you understand the novel's storyline? (19 responses)

I thought she was white until I read this question in the back of the book. It made me question my own impressions of what happened - scottishrose

Is Celestial a woman so liberated and focused on her work that she needs no attachments or is she so insecure that she can’t handle them? (7 responses)

Celestial relied on Roy and his ideas to get keep her business gong but gave him no credit for his input. Was that to appear liberated - bill

Is there one character that you identified the most with? If so, which one, and why? (12 responses)

Even though Uncle Banks was a secondary character, he seemed like a very sweet man to me. He had faith in himself as a lawyer, faith that one day he will set Roy free. I think he had more faith than Celestial. He was persistent, supportive to Roy and a very close friend to Celestial's family. In the... - lilliantpr

Oprah is planning to make An American Marriage into a movie. Who would you cast to be in it? (11 responses)

I am also looking forward to the movie and, since there are a number of excellent black actors and actresses available, I hope that they cast those who fit the descriptions in the book. Also, the author did indicate that the rape victim was an older white woman.

The Light Between the Oceans is an ...

- bill

Overall, what did you think of An American Marriage? (no plot spoilers in this thread please) (29 responses)

I really did not want to read this book because I thought that it would be another book about oppressed black people. I picked it up because I had read another book by the author that I thought was well written and thoughtful.
I give this book 5 stars because of the different slant on the issue of ... - shirleyf

The author says, "I feel...that the person that we think we are in our heads is not necessarily exactly the person we will be when a situation calls to us.” Do you agree with her? (14 responses)

Totally agree with the author. We may be strong in our normal, happy lives and react accordingly but when difficult situations overcome us, it's like a hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake. We know what we should do, how we should react, but we panic, we lose conscience of reality and who we are and ... - lilliantpr

The woman sent Roy to jail and disappeared. She didn’t resist Roy’s early release. Were you bothered by her attitude? (9 responses)

I don't think that the accuser really believed that Roy raped her and I'm really not so sure that she was raped at all, because there wasn't much evidence that a rape occurred. However, I don't thin the rape was the issue of the novel - it was the effect that the incarceration had on the marriage ... - shirleyf

What do you think Celestial means when she says "I will continue to support you, but not as your wife." Do you feel that Roy is right or wrong to reject her offer? (11 responses)

Frankly, I think those were empty words. Maybe Celestial thought she was being gallant by saying she’d stand by Roy, although not as his wife, but what was she really promising? This was another of those empty promises that Celestial and Roy made to each other. Throughout most of their relationship,... - marianned

What role do you think celebrity endorsements play in a book's popularity? Do you think that overall they’re a positive or negative thing for the reading community? (24 responses)

I don''t usually go with celebrity endorsements because I don't trust their choices. Too often ,they seem like the celebrities want to make a statement - you should read this because it shows you how narrow minded you are/ how little you understand this type of person/why you should care about this... - shirleyf

When Roy announces to Davina his intention to return to his wife, do you feel that her anger is justified? (14 responses)

As long he was still legally married to his wife, having a sexual encounter with another woman is called cheating. Both Roy and Celestial were cheating on each other. Hence Davina knew Roy’s status beforehand, and she accepted this and was totally aware of Roy’s situation. As an adult, she should ... - lilliantpr

Why did the doll for the mayor just happen to be in the car when Roy and Celestial visited his parents? (7 responses)

I believe that Celeste brought the doll along because, in her mind, it wasn't finished and she had a deadline. This was shown by the fact that she sewed more beads on the doll after they arrived at the motel.

Also, Olive desired the doll because it resembled Roy. The back and forth over the doll ...

- bill

"Starred Review. Layered like Pearl Cleage's What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, this title will appeal to all readers of contemporary fiction." - Library Journal

"Starred Review. Subtle, well-crafted, and powerful ... This is, at its heart, a love story, but a love story warped by racial injustice. And, in it, Jones suggests that racial injustice haunts the African-American story." - Kirkus

"Starred Review. There are rarely novels as timely or fitting as An American Marriage. It brings abstract ideas about race and love down to the material level. The story is gripping, and the characters are unforgettable." - Foreword Reviews

"The dialogue' - especially the letters between Roy and Celestial' - are sometimes too heavily weighted by exposition, and the language slides toward melodrama. But the central conflict is masterfully executed: Jones uses her love triangle to explore simmering class tensions and reverberating racial injustice in the contemporary South, while also delivering a satisfying romantic drama." - Publishers Weekly

"Jones crafts an affecting tale that explores marriage, family, regret, and other feelings made all the more resonant by her well-drawn characters and their intricate conflicts of heart and mind." - Booklist

"An American Marriage is a stunning, epic love story filled with breathtaking twists and turns, while bursting with realized and unrealized dreams. Skillfully crafted and beautifully written, An American Marriage is an exquisite, timely, and powerful novel that feels both urgent and indispensable." - Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory

"An American Marriage asks hard questions about injustice and betrayal, and answers them with a heartbreaking and genuinely suspenseful love story in which nobody's wrong and everybody's wounded. Tayari Jones has written a complex and important novel about people trapped in a tragic situation, struggling to reconcile their responsibilities and desires." - Tom Perrotta, author of Mrs. Fletcher

"Tayari Jones is blessed with vision to see through to the surprising and devastating truths at the heart of ordinary lives, strength to wrest those truths free, and a gift of language to lay it all out, compelling and clear...with An American Marriage that vision, that strength, and that truth-telling voice have found a new level of artistry and power." - Michael Chabon, author of Moonglow

"Tayari Jones is a great storyteller. An American Marriage holds the reader from first page to last, with her compassionate observation, her clear-eyed insight and her beautifully written and complex characters. Jones understands love and loss and writes with passion and precision about the forces that move us all from one to another." - Amy Bloom, author of Lucky Us

Write your own review

Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Patricia D Perkison
Beautifully written but a bit boring
The writing is delightful but the characters did not connect or resonate with me. The character development was weak and I did not feel passionately about them either way. Celeste was weak and selfish.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Dorothy Minor
Stunning Read
An American Marriage has been on my TBR list for some time. The librarian who leads our local book club at my branch library chose An American Marriage for our Feb discussion. I already had a copy, so I began reading it following our last meeting. I was unable to put the book down. The characters tugged at my heart; they are well-drawn and they quickly became people I cared about. They find themselves in a terrible situation through no fault of their own. The story is heartbreaking and redemptive at the same time.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sharon J
An American Marriage
Great book from Tayari Jones. The characters are well rounded. She's a great writer.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Dorothy L
Good but not Great
I read this book for a book club discussion. I found it a little difficult to get into at first but then was caught up in the story. Our lives often seem to be following a plan, but one action, one moment, can change everything not only for the victim of injustice, but also for those around him. I thought the characters were well drawn, even the minor ones, but there were situations in the book that did not seem realistic to me (I am not being specific because of spoilers). I did, however, like the ending. That did seem realistic to me. I already know that some people in my book group did not like the book and others did so I expect an interesting discussion. And that is what book clubs are all about right?

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Betty Taylor
Reflects real life decisions & emotions
Tayari Jones does not sugar coat her stories. They are raw, they are real. In her latest book “An American Marriage” her characters deal with the realities of their place in this world.

The characters are well developed – all with flaws, all with positive qualities. There were times I wanted to embrace a character and then later I felt like asking the same character “What were you thinking?!!” No one was all good, nor all bad. They were real! I had no idea how I wanted the story to go. I kept changing my mind. And I was never sure how the author would end their story.

This is the story of Roy and Celestial Hamilton who met through her best friend Dre. Roy and Celestial married and were deeply in love when after only 18 months of marriage had their world turned upside down. Roy goes to prison for a crime he did not commit. While he is away Celestial turns to Dre for support. Then when he is released he returns to different life. Has his marriage survived? Love, race, trust, loyalty, honesty, family obligations are all explored. This is a heartfelt story, nothing flashy. Ms. Jones wrote in such a way that I could feel the pain the characters felt over the decisions they had to make. No one was going to escape untouched.

‘An American Marriage” is perfect for book clubs. It lends itself to an amazing discussion of the choices made, the consequences, the interactions, race inequality, feminism, family definition.

Mistakes are made, loved ones are betrayed, the term family is redefined, and emotions are laid bare. This is real life.

New York Times best-selling author, Tayari Jones, is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage. Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Silver Sparrow was added to the NEA Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She is a Professor of Creative Writing at Emory University.

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