An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a highly lauded novel that has won awards and accolades from Oprah, NPR, New York Times, USA Today, People magazine and the Washington Post. Even my hero Barack Obama said the book is “A moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.”
I cannot recall having read a book before where my opinions are so vastly different that noted reviewers. Along with a friend, we were concerned our distaste for the book might prove unpopular at book club and the friend nearly skipped the event so as not to disagree. More on that later.
Here’s the description from Amazon’s product page: 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.
I recommend you borrow the book from your local library. I’m rereading it, for review purposes, from the Alliance Public Library’s Overdrive database. For obvious reasons, I’m glad I didn’t invest $10 (Kindle) to $25 (hard cover) on the book.
I’m inclined to agree with the one-star reviewers. The book was slow progressing and the climax was weak. The main characters were not particularly likeable and their ideas of marriage seemed to revolve around cheating or lying.
I will admit to, but not apologize for, being raised in a nuclear family with a clear definition of how a good marriage works. Middle-class and white, I didn’t experience the intense racism and lack of moorings this young couple experiences. But I also didn’t feel the author’s descriptions of the experience. In other words, I went away wanting.
It’s the beauty of book club, you can dislike a book others like, but in this case, no one was happy with the book’s resolutions. Perhaps we’re too “white bread” to understand the issues Celestial and Roy faced when he’s convicted of a crime she knows he didn’t commit. But, nowhere in the book, do we get the resolution of the crime, the final knowledge he didn’t commit the crime.
It’s painful to see anyone paint two unrelated men with the same brush and we all assume that is what happened in this book. But you know what they say about “assume”. I’d have like to have the story’s resolution find the real criminal.
But, my real issue with this book wasn’t about racism and I honestly didn’t think my issue had anything to do with color, but I could be wrong. When you consider yourself one of the least racist persons around, do a double check. We all have implicit biases and I catch myself occasionally worrying about this or that because a person I don’t know is involved — but when they’re a person of color, I have to be conscious to check any implicit biases at the door.
Celestial and Roy’s marriage, from the outset, is mired in lying and cheating. Many, if not all the peripheral characters are plagued with the same issues, so the only way this could be considered a profile of An American Marriage, is if you have a very narrow and perhaps very bleak view of the institution of marriage. Is this the actual state of married life in today’s society? Am I so naïve? I’d like to hear your opinions, too.
In the meanwhile, the book has 4.5 stars on Amazon reviews and 3.5 stars on Good Reads. Sibling rivalry between the two sites, perhaps? I am more likely to enjoy A Portrait of an American Marriage by Christopher Andersen regarding the Obama marriage, “shedding fascinating light on a romantic relationship and a political destiny like no other.” His words, not mine, but something I can relate to more easily. Andersen has also done profiles of the Clinton, Kennedy and Bush White House couples.
Lastly, an apology for the lack of blog posts in the past three to four months. As many of you know, I’ve published my first book and am just now putting the finishing touches on the book’s back cover. I will have an announcement on that front yet this week.