Review | An American Marriage | Taryari Jones

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Publication Date: February 6th, 2018

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Page Count: 320 pages

Why I read it: I saw it on Netgalley and loved what I saw. A black man being wrongfully incarcerated is unfortunately not new news, but I was drawn in to the synopsis and wanted to explore effect it had on one couple. 

First Sentence: "There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don't." 

Synopsis: 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.
 
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward--with hope and pain--into the future.

My Thoughts: This is one of those books that I had to step away from a bit and digest before reviewing. The story is told from three separate POVs: from that of Celestial, the wife, Roy, the husband, and Andre, the childhood friend. You will love them and hate them each at different times. After about a year and a half of marriage, Roy is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. Celestial knows he didn't commit this crime because she was with him when the crime took place. But none of this mattered. We get to learn about their relationship largely through their letters to one another. At first, I was thrown off by the lack of dates on the letters, but I came to understand that the lack of dates was probably a choice. We see time as Roy sees time, through the changes in Celestial. It was so interesting to see how much of Roy's identity was wrapped up in things: his degree, his job, his relationship, his shoes. He scraped and fought so hard for these things, but none of these accomplishments saved him from getting wrongly incarcerated. He does get released after several years, and comes to find out that everything has changed. This is a book about family, obligation, and choices- the choices that we want to make and those that are forced upon us.

The writing was incredible. Jones was able to quickly draw me into the relationship and get me to care about and empathize with the characters right from the beginning. There was beautiful description of time and place that was evocative without being distracting. Jones describes racism in American via her characters in a very straightforward way. I can see this book being read 50 years from now as a study to see what life was like in America for people of color in the South in this decade. The fathers in this story were some of my favorite characters- Big Roy and his devotion to his wife and Celestial's dad refusing to give her a free pass. I know it sounds heavy handed, and it was sad in many places. But it was also a hell of a pleasure to read. Get your hands on this one. It'll definitely be on my favorite books of the year list.

Favorite Quote: "Memory is a queer creature, an eccentric curator."

Companion Read: The New Jim Crowe

Rating: 5/5 This is why I read- I love human stories like this. 

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MMD Reading for Growth | A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner

In 2017, I've really committed myself to reading more books with substance. I LOVE a breezy memoir or page turning thriller, but I find that I am able to devour these guilt free if I also find ways to work substantive novels into the mix. I thought a good way to do this was to try and complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy "Reading for Growth" list.

The book I chose to complete the "Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner" category was The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. (It's also the group pick for the Goodreads Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge Group for February). Now, I KNOW you all don't need me to review this book, because it was everywhere in 2016. It was a #1 NY Times Bestseller, National Book Award Winner, and Ms. Winfrey herself selected it as a book for her book club. At any rate, I did still want to share my reactions.

Review.

I am absolutely a fan of this book, and I feel the praise was well deserved. I recommend that you not read the synopsis. (Actually, that's the way that I prefer to go into most novels- knowing that there are elements I'll like about it and not knowing much else). I read the synopsis on Amazon after I finished the book and was surprised at how much of the plot was given away. The basics: this book a fictional account of a slave named Cora and her attempt to escape from a plantation using the underground railroad. The twist is that this underground railroad is literally a railroad that, with the help of allies, transports anyone that is able to find the secret entrances to the next stop on the line. A fellow slave, Caesar, recruits Cora to escape with him because her mother had escaped years before and he believes her to be good luck. The story unfolds and we follow the two throughout their journey to South Carolina and beyond. 

I wouldn't call this a thriller, but I couldn't put it down. I thought this one would be one of those books that was important to read but very tough to get through, but I was so wrong. This book is fiction first, then history. Because of this, it's accessible to all readers.  I loved that Colson Whitehead told this story with respect and in a way that doesn't let us forget the horrors that occurred in the segregated South.  Whitehead infuses Cora into the worst of situations, all of which are a take on true events (think the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). The story was almost Forrest Gump like in this way. Cora is a very well fleshed out character who, despite experiencing horrors that not many of us could imagine, retains a sense of humor and hope. She has become one of my favorite characters and her story will stick with me. The writing is subtle and I will come back to this and read it again. I would have liked to more know about some of the secondary characters. This book reminded me about things that were somehow glossed over in my U.S. History education, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, strong writing, and/or memorable female protagonists. 

Quotable.

There were so many powerful sentences in this book, but a couple stood out to me.

Plantation justice was mean and constant, but the world was indiscriminate.

Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man. 

Whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden.

Rating.

5/5