Originally published March 2018
I never thought I’d be quoting the band Nazareth in a book review, but after reading “An American Marriage,” it’s all I can hear.
Love hurts. Oooo, love hurts.
Tayari Jones’ latest novel is an exploration of marriage and other relationships under the cloud of false incarceration. Blessed by none other than Oprah, making it her 2018 Book Club pick, Jones masterfully draws readers into the lives of Celestial, Roy and Andre, three Atlanta-area denizens making their way through their fresh out-of-college lives.
Celestial sits at the apex of this love’s triangle, a young woman with big dreams and not unwilling to sacrifice to get what she wants. Jones takes care to make these characters human, and with Celestial, what makes her so real is that she is not infallible. She has been hurt by love and she takes those scars into future relationships.
Roy’s humanity is borne from a nagging uncertainty about his legitimacy, and the guilt that follows when he tries to compensate for it. The actions that are connected to his drive to prove himself can at times seem overbearing to those around him, but given he’s at the center of the novel’s tragic turn, it’s easy to forgive.
Andre, Celestial’s lifelong friend, is humanized by the conflict he struggles with in attempting to remain loyal to everyone he loves, especially his mother, and in spite of the desire to understand and connect with a father that flew the coop when he, in fact, couldn’t remain loyal. The drive to not be like his father is tested when he finds himself no longer willing to fight his feelings for the girl next door.
An American Marriage is more than just an exploration of a modern day marriage between two upwardly mobile people, both setting out to make the world their respective oyster. It also delves into the gray area that can surround infidelity. The nuance of trust and respect. The victims of the prison system, inside and out. A mother’s love for her son. A father’s expectations of his daughter. Loving a child not biologically your own as if he is. And finding a way through grief.
The ending to An American Marriage is exactly what I love about literature — taking a story to a place that one suspects might be conventionally unpopular, but so absolutely real. In that space of a chapter, lives are redeemed in such heartbreaking yet uplifting ways. This book is so definitely worth your attention.