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Tayari Jones's AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE - A Close Examination of Relationships

by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)

Book cover for Tayari Jones's An American Marriage

"Marriage is like grafting a limb onto a tree trunk. You have the limb, freshly sliced, dripping sap, and smelling of springtime, and then you have the mother tree stripped of her protective bark, gouged and ready to receive this new addition" (110).

Wow, friends, this was a phenomenal book. I was totally captivated by the story. In Tayari Jones's An American Marriage, Celestial and Roy, who live in Atlanta, are still early in their marriage when they go to visit his family in Louisiana. Instead of staying with his parents while they are there, they decide to stay at a local inn, which becomes a choice that they will each remember forever. While they are there, Roy crosses paths with a woman who later that night is assaulted by a man. She wrongly believes that man to be Roy -- and he winds ups with a twelve-year prison sentence. The novel focuses on the struggles that come as Celestial and Roy fight to stay together in their marriage despite the endless barriers that get in their way. Celestial, who comes from a wealthy family and has professional ambitions and goals to be an entrepreneur, struggles to understand Roy's perspective, especially as he begins to realize the way that imprisonment, even after he suffers through it, will alter the rest of his life. Although they try to support each other, the differences in their viewpoints make it difficult for them to move forward in the same direction.

The novel is told from three perspectives, that of Roy, of Celestial, and of Andre, Celestial's childhood friend who supports her when Roy is incarcerated. Each character is complex, and the relationships between them are complicated. They are richly drawn, and we learn about the family dynamics that shape each one of them. However, at its heart, this is the story of a couple's life being profoundly disrupted by the injustice of mass incarceration of Black men in America. Jones demonstrates the impact of prejudice and of a faulty justice system on individual lives, and we the readers watch that injustice play out, poisoning each person it touches.

And yet there is hope. There is reckoning. There is the ability to persevere, to endure, to believe in a brighter future despite all of the setbacks.

I read this for one of @readwithtoni's read-to-learn discussion groups. She's doing an amazing series of books on her page, and the discussions she leads are always rewarding. Check out the schedule in her highlights, and join in on some of those discussions! (And don't miss our episode with Toni from this spring!)

Have you read An American Marriage? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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