Manuela’s Review of “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones

By: Manuela Soares

“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.” – Goodreads Summary.

I read this about a year and a half ago and have been sitting on this review since. I’ll admit that when I finished this I was not a happy camper and my thoughts on it were all over the place. It’s by no means a bad book, on the contrary, it covers a lot of very important topics and is well-written, but it’s not a book that I enjoyed reading or would recommend to most people. If you’re into contemporaries and exploring human relationships under strain and racial injustice, this may be something to look into.

I didn’t know what exactly I was getting into when I started this, but it’s not what I expected based on the summary (see opening paragraph). That being said, I did push through as contemporaries are not books that I tend to lean towards, so this was a challenge for me to finish it. I highly recommend the audiobook for this one, it’s more enjoyable than physically reading it.

This book explores how one moment, one choice can change lives forever. I’ll be honest, I just couldn’t get into it. The writing was amazing, and Jones’ style is fantastic, but I could not connect to any of the main characters; which, for me, is not a good thing when the book is character driven. Frankly, they bothered me. These characters are broken characters, individually and collectively. It’s something you have to keep in mind when reading because they continuously made poor and ridiculous choices/decisions that left me going WTF.

Based on how they were written and how the main couple, Roy and Celestial, in this story communicated, I genuinely wonder why these two got married. Roy has the personality of a man that would fit right in, in the 1950s (lots of sexism and misogyny in this one), and for as strong, independent, and capable as Celestial is meant to come across, she’s really not; she’s more indecisive than anything else. It’s like she doesn’t know who she is or what she wants out of life, only what she, and others, thinks is expected of her. On paper, these two may have been a good match, but in reality, they were not.

As for the third part of this triangle, Andre, he had his moments but overall he was nearly as bad as Roy. He’s had a thing for Celestial since they were kids and even after they hooked up as teens never said a thing. He and Celestial end up having an affair starting about a year after Roy is incarcerated. Touching back on the characters making poor and ridiculous choices/decisions, this read like he saw Celestial was in a vulnerable position and took advantage of that fact. I could be wrong, may have interpreted it wrong, but that’s how it felt.

If you’ve seen that TikTok video (couldn’t find the original but found it on YouTube) of the woman sitting at a table saying that when she’s rich, “you’re getting therapy, you’re getting therapy, you’re getting double therapy. Everyone’s healing,” that’s exactly what I want to say to these characters because there’s so much going on with all of them individually and collectively, that they all need professional help. Therapy may not be the be-all-end-all, but it couldn’t hurt.

This is a tragic story that examines the relationships between people and how they change, racial injustice (and injustice in general), stereotypes, and more. If you’re looking for a story that focuses on human relationships in tragic and unjust circumstances, this may be the book for you. If you’re looking for something that focuses on the ‘crime’ and how the trial unfolds and all that, this is not that. The actual ‘crime’ aspect is very minimal in this, it’s mostly the fallout and relationships.

Overall, this isn’t a bad book, but it’s not one I enjoyed reading/listening to. According to my Goodreads, I read this in only a few days, but I listened to the majority of it as the audiobook was much better than reading it and I could speed it up to 2x or more. 

This review will also be posted on Fathoms Amidst the Lines and Goodreads.

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