Author: Tayari Jones
Even before ‘An American Marriage’ ended, I already knew that it was going to push me to continue my ‘Not a review’ series. I loved it!
‘An American Marriage’ is a novel that serves a complicated blend of love and hurt and conversations and hope and the justice system and everything quite relatable. I usually love story-lines that lack extreme villains, extreme heroes, extreme antagonist, extreme protagonists and so on. I figure that’s how life usually is; no one is 100% always clearly wrong or right. And that’s how this novel was; it leaves you somewhere in between blaming and understanding each main character.
Because this isn’t a review per se, I’ll just give a quick summary of what the novel is about (there are spoilers): A black couple; Roy and Celestial are the focus. They have a pretty okay marriage aside from some noticeable tension perhaps supposed to look like normal marriage issues (I didn’t think it was tbh). Just in the beginning of their marriage, some racial problems befell Roy such that he was identified as a rapist when he clearly wasn’t. He goes to jail and is to be there for 12 years. Celestial whose family is quite wealthy has a lawyer working tirelessly on his appeal and everyone’s hoping for the best but the marriage is sorta kinda collapsing. In the beginning of his jail term, they write letters to each other but things spiral down after a while. Roy is able to get out in 5 years but his wife is already in an intimate relationship with her best friend and childhood friend, Andre. Etc etc etc
What I loved about this novel:
First! Tayari’s writing style. There are some books I read and I think, “Yeah, this is something I can do’, but for this novel, I have to think twice to make such a statement. I could tell that it took a whole lot of diligence and perseverance to continue excellently till the end. And my emphasis on excellently.
Let me tell you how well Tayari writes. I was reading this book (on my laptop) one day and then had to pause to do something. I got back to where my laptop was and legit clicked on the VLC icon on my tab. I was expecting to continue watching a movie. I honestly believed I had been watching a movie. And I don’t want to give my imagination all the credit for that!
Also the letter style of writing was it for me! I love love loved it! Personally, I love letters – write me a letter and trust my heart to melt towards you. So when I realized that a bulk of the novel was just letters passing from one person to the other, it made me super happy.
Even when the letters stopped coming (pun will be understood by someone who has read the novel), I still liked the point-of-view narration style. It helped to see how each person was feeling and viewing the whole drama as it unfolded. And that’s why I say that it’s difficult to see one person as the absolute victim or another as the absolute hero.
I think Celestial messed up, but I also think Roy did. I understand some part of Andre, but some other parts, I do not. I get Big Roy, and Walter and Olive and everyone! But it doesn’t mean I agreed with all they did. You’d dislike them and then you’d also like them.
The novel is super cool. I really liked the gems tucked away in sentences. Some of my best were:
“Even while she wore his ring, she wasn’t his wife. She was merely a married woman”
“But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family.”
“I have always let you know how much I care, right? You never had to wonder. I’m not a man for words. Daddy showed me that you ‘do’ for a woman. Remember that time when you damn near had a nervous breakdown because it looked like the hickory-nut tree in the front yard was thinking about dying? Where I’m from, we don’t believe in spending money on pets, let alone trees. But I couldn’t bear to see you fret, so I hired a tree doctor. See, in my mind, that was a love letter.”
“There are too many loose ends in the world in need of knots.”
“It was a wonderful feeling to be grown and yet young. To be married but not settled. To be tied down yet free.”
When a spectral voice says, get out, you should do it. But in real life, you don’t know that you’re in a scary movie.”
“The vast generosity of women is a mysterious tunnel, and nobody knows where it leads. The writing on the walls spells out trick questions, and as a man, you must know that you cannot reason your way out.”
But how you feel love and understand love are two different things.”
Oh! And the epilogue. Geeez! Quite unexpected.
What I think could have been done better
I think the writer could have helped us form a deeper relationship with the characters (especially Celestial and Andre). I couldn’t really relate with Celestial tbh. Was she independent? Was she not? Was she an aloof person? Was she an emotionally invested person? Was she really ever in love with Roy? Was she intelligent? or not really?
And for some reasons beyond me, I always (even till the end) pictured Andre as an effeminate man.
There were also some black holes in the development of the story which are capable of losing readers.
But yeah! I liked the novel ‘An American Marriage’. And yes, I recommend it!