An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
” I blame it on time, not on you or me. If we put a penny in a jar for each day we have been married, and we took a penny away everyday we’ve been apart, the jar would have been depleted a long time ago. I’ve been trying to find ways to add more pennies, but our visits in that busy room at that sad table send me home with empty hands.”
An American Marriage
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones has recently nominated as the winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work and the very prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction. This book received rave reviews by Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. It is highly recommended by fellow bookstagrammers on Instagram. Obviously An American Marriage occupied the highest position on my to-be-read books. Was I left disappointed? Read on to know.
Something About the Story
The story is a love triangle. You must have watched many Bollywood love triangle movies. A happily married couple whose life goes for a toss when husband died or went missing. As soon as the heroine decides to move forward in life with another man, the husband makes a surprise entry into the picture.
An American Marriage has almost a similar story line of a Black couple, but not like typical Bollywood movies we watched in the 80’s and 90’s. Basic structure could be the same, but the way it was presented, treatment, plotting and climax makes it stand out in the crowd. After reading this hard to put down book I could see the reason why everyone was going gaga about An American Marriage.
So let me brief you on the story. A young African American couple, Roy and Celestial were madly in love. But their life changed completely, all their dreams shattered when they were separated due to one life altering biased racial decision. The couple strives to remain committed to each other. But cracks started appearing when another angle appears in their love story, which completely tilts the equation. It makes Celestial realize what lacks in her life.
The story has been written in multiple narrative styles like flashback where the characters ponder over the past events. As a consequence, there was pouring intricate emotions of characters which were tender and raw, so real and intimate. The narrative flows seamlessly filling in each gap. Thus pecking the interest in the book.
Then there was a layer of suspense in the novel right from the beginning, which was so cleverly executed by the author Tayari Jones. It will suck you in the whirlpool of events and suddenly you will find yourself tangled with the life of Roy and Celestial. But yes the way she concludes the story will put your mind at rest and peace.
The present was mostly written in the letter format exchanged mainly between Roy and Celestial. They were so heartening to read. Love flowed from them.
But the tone of the letters changed as the characters feeling took turns. You can feel the change, you want to brush them aside as the overreaction and over thinking of the characters, but not for too long. Along with the characters, even you as a reader has to face the realities. Such is the prowess of Tayari Jones writing.
Whirlpool of Emotions
The author Tayari Jones is so brilliant with the portrayal of emotions. Celestial’s inner tussle between her wavering heart’s desire and her discrete mind to be just; Roy’s perceptive and receptive character were all immaculately presented. Both were caught between their expectations and the realities of life.
You might dislike Celestial for drifting away from Roy because things didn’t turn out as she wants.You might dislike Roy for coming so hard on Celestial and expecting way too much from her. Whatever you may feel, but Tayari Jones has made sure that you won’t hate them and will understand each perspective. She gave both side story.
An American Marriage is a complex and layered story. It is not just about Roy and Celestial, but also about family and relationship, loss and racial injustice, obligations and expectations, choices you made and decisions which were forced on.
Dissatisfaction starts taking root when a partner feel she or he is giving way too much and not getting anything in return. And then unconsciously start looking for alternatives. This strained part has been realistically portrayed by the author Tayari Jones.
The story of Roy and Celestial raises some extremely uncomfortable questions on your conscience related to marriage and obligation, related to pushing hard or letting go, related to betrayal and desires, related to expectation and responsibility, related to importance of give and receive in relationships.
Sub Plots and Characters
There are many subplots, each with their own backstory and with their subtle presence, adding more value and weightage to the main story. Parents in the story tried, their mistakes shouldn’t repeated by their children. Don’t we all do that?
All the characters were flawed with limitations, their own level for endurance and multi dimensional. None of them were bad or evil. But everyone has different expectations from life, dreams to live, wishes to fulfill.
African American has always been victims of racial injustice. Many a times wrongly punished and then acquitted without an apology. This has been brilliantly used as a twisting fate by the author in the plot.
The climax of the book was melodramatic. It was exactly the way I predicted. But there were so many tumultuous moments, pendulum of the emotions was shifting from one man to another, it was difficult to guess with whom Celestial want to spend the rest of her life. But everything ends well.
I loved it. It is the mirror of real relationships. The author Tayari Jones has effectively and realistically captured the nuances and unpredictable ways of life. An American Marriage is not just the story of Roy and Celestial but it is the story of every other couple, There is always a huge disparity between the expectations from marriage and the way things turned out. It is always wise to evolve your expectation according to the situation. When a married couple failed to do so, which actually happened in the case of Roy and Celestial, a dissatisfaction crept into their relationship and they started falling apart. This is the major crust of the story.
About The Author
Tayari Jones is the author of four novels, including Silver Sparrow, The Untelling, and Leaving Atlanta. Jones holds degrees from Spelman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa. A winner of numerous literary awards, she is a professor of creative writing at Emory University.