Review | An American Marriage | Taryari Jones


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 Challenge | A Book Set Somewhere You've Never Been But Would Like to Visit

Siracusa | Delia Ephron

Siracusa pic.jpg

The book I chose for the MMD Reading Challenge category of a Book Set Somewhere You've Never Been but Would Like to Visit is Siracusa, by Delia Ephron. It's set in various cities in Italy, but as one of the narrator's point out, the city of Siracusa is where everything officially unravels.

I love the style in which this story is told- Rashomon Syle, where the same story is told from the viewpoint of several characters. In this case, the story is told by Lizzie, Michael, Finn, and Taylor. Lizzie and Finn dated when they were young. They run into each other several years later, are married to other people, but somehow decide it's a good idea for them and their spouses to become travel companions. Lizzie is a free spirit and decides on Siracusa as their travel destination because it's off the beaten path and likely to annoy Finn's spoiled wife, Taylor. What Lizzie doesn't know is that her husband, Michael, has a mistress and said mistress is going to find her way to Italy as well. 

I'll admit- not a one of these characters was very likable. Lizzie is a journalist who lives in the shadow of her one hit wonder writer husband. She thinks she's happy, but is essentially existing and allowing herself to believe that everything is great in her marriage. Finn is a restaurant owner who drinks too much and spends too much time at work to get away from his [weird] wife, Taylor, and their [weirder] daughter, Snow. The relationship between Taylor and Snow is codependent and unhealthy, but we find out that Snow might not be as naive and fragile as she seems. Taylor was comically delusional and I kept waiting for Snow to snap. All of the characters are amazing at lying to themselves, and it was strangely entertaining to watch things unravel.

Three pages in, you already feel like you know so much. I love how the narrators talk straight to the reader and allude to the impending doom right away. It made for a quick and compelling read. This book reminded me of The Nest in a lot of ways, so if you liked that book you would probably like this one. At just over 300 pages, it was a quick read. It's not a story that I'm likely to come back to, but I did enjoy the trip while I was there.

Rating- 4/5

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