AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones
Not an unusual thing, a man claiming he’s innocent of a crime for which he’s incarcerated, but his complete story does end up unusual. Bold, raw, thought-provoking, Tayari Jones’ non-ghetto tale of an innocent sent to jail lets the reader live incarceration and all of its repercussions through the eyes of a man who’s innocent, not perfect, but innocent of the crime of violating a woman who accepts his help, and then swears he’s her attacker. Roy and his wife do have a passionate marriage until his imprisonment upends their lives and ends her tolerance for Roy’s situation. She quits visiting Roy and disassociates herself with him without the formality of divorce. In the meantime, his fight for his innocence continues and is realized a short time after Celestial’s break from him. Celestial and Roy have lived in Atlanta, and Roy returns there very soon after he’s released, a wronged but free man in Louisiana.
He suspects Celestial has found comfort in their mutual friend, the person who introduced them, Andre, who was literally Celestial’s boy next door. Their love triangle starts in college, but Andre does not act upon his feelings for Celestial until years after Roy is sent to prison. Looking for comfort, kindness, and security, Celestial professes her love for Andre even though she suspects she will again have feelings for Roy if and when he gets out of prison.
The last quarter of the book is what you’ve been reading for, and because of the artistry of the author, by this time these characters are very alive in your mind’s eye. The end is both gripping and heart-breaking. I came away knowing that the book had to end this way even though I hoped it would not. Andre and Roy think their blood bath settles the argument over Celestial, but it is Celestial and Roy’s truth that settle the battle. Readers are reminded that life would be easy if all questions had yes or no answers. I can understand why this is an Oprah Book Pick. It truly is the story of an American Marriage. More likenesses than differences run through many of our American traditions. There are not black marriages or white marriages---there are American Marriages.