Friday, January 11, 2019

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

 There are some books that will stand the test of time as being a true classic. An
American Marriage might just be one of those books. It has gained critical acclaim from all reviewers and was one of President Obama's summer reads of 2018. 

Told from the perspective of the protagonists, it is the story of Roy and Celestial, a black couple in Atlanta, who are well-educated and and financially in good standing. On a trip to visit his mother the couple opt to stay in a motel rather than at his mother's home. The decision has dire consequences for he is accused of raping another guest at the hotel. He is arrested and sent to jail despite being innocent. Much of the novel is recounted in the form of letters between Celestial and Roy while he is in prison. Through those very personal missives the reader is given insight into the early days of the relationship and then to how each deals with his imprisonment. During that time period Celestial's Uncle Banks, a lawyer, works endlessly to prove Roy's innocence. 

In addition the narration by Celestial and Roy, there are chapters devoted to Andre Tucker, a childhood friend of Celestial's. He does not hide the fact that he has always been in love with her since their prom date. She never shared those feelings and he has respected her for that. As a stalwart companion during the time Roy is in jail, the two rekindle a friendship and more. Other strong characters in the book are Roy's parents, Roy Senior and Olive, and Celestial's parents. Franklin and Delano Davenport. Each weighs in on the tragic situation as well as how they first viewed the couple. 

Without giving away most of the plot, suffice it to say that a tangled web is woven among the three. This was a wonderful read, tho so disturbing to think of how race plays such a part in the judgment that members of a jury can put forth. In some respects it reminded me of the trial of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, that was written 60 years before. Has all that much really changed in America? With themes as racism and class, the influence of fathers in our lives, and the strengths and weaknesses of a marital state there is much to be digested in the reading of An American Marriage. 

Probably one of the best lectures I have ever heard was given by Tayari Jones on 19 November 2018 as a part of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures series. She was candid, articulate and made the voices and narration of her novel come alive. The book was wonderful and so was she.

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