An American Marriage is a novel that explores the lives of a recently married couple, moments before one of them is wrongly imprisoned for a crime that they did not commit. The novel delves into the development and transformation of their marriage through the trial, incarceration and post-incarceration.
For this book review, I have decided to focus on the themes of the novel without giving too much away as it is a novel that I highly recommend you read.
Title of the Novel:
Within the context of the ongoing debate of whether African-Americans should be termed as just Americans, the title of the novel is a subtle, yet obvious statement in itself. Tayari Jones chooses to name her novel An American Marriage instead of An African-American Marriage. In the current climate of American politics, where unarmed black men and women are shot by the police in and out of their own homes with little consequences to the officers, the issues of injustice is not only an African-American problem but an American problem. The title of the novel eludes to the universality of the issues faced by the couple and the limited solutions available to them.
The novel presents Roy with two fathers, Big Roy and Walter. Although both men play a key role in shaping the man that Roy is to become at the end of the novel, they do not equally share the burden of fatherhood. Although Walter was wilfully absent most of Roy’s life, he was able to guide and farther his son during the toughest period of Roy’s life. In the moments where Big Roy could not play the role of a father to Roy, Walter was able to step in and carry the baton of fatherhood.
The issue of maternity is one that is presented in a different light throughout the novel. Celestial’s progression in regard to her stance towards motherhood highlights the lasting impact of decisions made.
Although Jones had initially written the book from the perspective of just Celestial, the final result of the novel added the perspectives of both Roy and Andre. This choice by Jones permits the reader to see the marriage from an insiders and outsider’s perspective, allowing the reader to make their own judgement based on the perspectives of all those involved. The form of the novel is one that is to be enjoyed, as it is a mixture of first-person internal dialogue as well as letter writing between characters. The move to letter writing and then back to internal dialogue emphasised the distance between characters allowing the lack of intimacy not only to be experienced by the characters but by the reader as well.
One question that I ask myself is did the writer succeed in creating a novel that can be related to by all, despite their race, sex, class, gender etc.? As a black woman, I found it difficult to resolve some of the tensions between my gender and my race when reading the pages dedicated to the trial. With Jones consciously choosing to omit the race of the victim, I felt that the trial was between my gender and my race, that in order for one to gain justice the other must face injustice. Although Jones makes it very clear that Roy was not the perpetrator of the crime, the victim is certain that he is the man that assaulted her. Her justice can only be gained through the wrongful incarceration of an innocent man. Whereas, if Roy had been acquitted of the crime, the woman would have seen it as an injustice whilst Roy would have viewed it as justice.
Jones succeeded in showing readers how easy it is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Quite often, it is easy to see those with a criminal record and pass judgement on them for their decisions that led them to where they are. However, the novel allows you to see the man behind the criminal record, and all the right choices that still led to the wrong place at the wrong time. The narrative of those in the wrong place at the wrong time is one that is gaining credence in the media, with Netflix documentaries such as Now They See Us, adding another voice to the wrongful incarceration of black boys/men in America.
In conclusion, An American Marriage is brilliant novel that captivates the reader from the very onset. The novel explores numerous themes and issues that are central to a marriage without exacting judgement on any of the characters for the choices they make. This is a novel that I highly recommend and rate it 4.3 out of 5 stars.
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Thank you for reading.