Summary and book reviews of An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

A 2018 Oprah's Book Club Selection, and winner of the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction

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.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The title of this novel is An American Marriage. Do you feel this title accurately represents the novel? Why or why not? And if you do find the title appropriate, what about the story makes it particularly "American"?
  2. The author wanted to write a book that took on some of the inequalities of mass incarceration and really have the issue resonate, even for readers who think, This couldn't happen to me . Do you think she succeeded?
  3. You may not have noticed that Tayari Jones does not specify the race of the woman who accuses Roy of rape. How did you picture this woman? What difference does the race of this woman make in the way you under- stand the novel's storyline?
  4. Do you understand Celestial's ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about An American Marriage.
You can see the full discussion here.


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

Do you feel that Andre is ultimately a better match for Celestial? If so, why?
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?
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 ... - scottishrose

Do you feel that Celestial and Andre will be better at parenting than Celestial and Roy would have been? If so, why?
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 ... - 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?
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

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  • award image

    Women's Prize for Fiction
    2019

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

All told, An American Marriage is a memorable dissection of one of society's most venerable institutions. Hard work or not, Jones brilliantly shows us just how easy it is for things to go awry in the blink of an eye, even in a happy marriage let alone in a less-than-perfect one...continued

Full Review (716 words).

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(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.

Booklist
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.

Kirkus
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.

Foreword Reviews
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.

Library Journal
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.

Author Blurb Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory
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.

Author Blurb Tom Perrotta, author of Mrs. Fletcher
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.

Author Blurb Michael Chabon, author of Moonglow
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.

Author Blurb Amy Bloom, author of Lucky Us
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.

Reader Reviews

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 ...   Read More

Sharon J

An American Marriage
Great book from Tayari Jones. The characters are well rounded. She's a great writer.

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...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Black Incarceration and Sentencing

Black Hands on BarsIn An American Marriage, Roy is wrongly accused of rape and receives a twelve-year sentence. His only crime, Jones writes, was to be a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Indeed black men suffer on both counts: they are incarcerated more often than their white counterparts and receive longer sentences. According to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites. If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.

African American men also receive longer sentences than their white counterparts. The sentencing aspect of the equation has come...

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