[R]ather than dwell on the moral implications of this violent and false imprisonment of a black man, Jones almost speeds through it; specifics of the arrest and the trial are provided in a matter of paragraphs. The terseness doesn’t make these details any less affecting, but does suggest them as essential context for the dissolving marriage at the novel’s core. Jones’s exploration is a breathtaking look at who and what can be complicit in that breakdown ... Her writing illuminates the bits and pieces of a marriage: those almost imperceptible moments that make it, break it, and forcefully tear it apart. Touching on familiar marital aspects (infidelity, stasis, competition), Jones suggests that it is the amalgamation of these things, not any particular isolated instance, that can indelibly fracture a relationship ... It becomes head-spinning how Jones upends all expectations, flipping the reader’s perceptions and offering unexpected moments of clarity.
Each character speaks directly to us, alternating chapter by chapter, as though Roy and Celestial are pleading for our understanding — and our forgiveness. But Jones offers no clear lines of culpability here, which is what makes An American Marriage so compelling ... These are punishing questions, but they’re spun with tender patience by Jones, who cradles each of these characters in a story that pulls our sympathies in different directions. She never ignores their flaws, their perfectly human tendency toward self-justification, but she also captures their longing to be kind, to be just, to somehow behave well despite the contradictory desires of the heart.
...a dynamic story that ruminates on the short and long term emotional consequences of incarceration ... Jones’ edifying and penetrating prose is never sentimental or overblown. She remains laser-focused on the gradual loss of trust in their relationship, the trauma that outlives a sentence served, and the nuances of guilt when one-half of a couple loses his freedom, while the other half lives it out loud. And through her indelible characters, Jones masterfully probes denial and the ways it slowly seeps into the cracks and crevices of a shaky marriage until at last, it fully embodies it.
...[a] wise and compassionate novel ... It is beautifully written, with many allusions to black music and culture — including the everyday poetry of the African-American community that begs to be heard ... While Jones keeps her gaze on the personal, this intimate story of a relationship cannot be divorced from its racial context. The black body in America can’t escape the scrutiny of the political lens, not entirely. The characters feel lucky that Roy is still alive — as Celestial says, there is 'no appealing a cop’s bullet.' While not a polemic, the novel gives us a quiet, revolutionary statement about black innocence, which Celestial defines as 'having no way to predict the pain of the future.'”
Contrary to Hollywood norms is the fact that An American Marriage does not focus on prison reform. Nor does it spend much time on racial profiling or rape. Rather, Jones examines the countless ways in which 'marriage' can be turned, twisted, and redefined. Her agenda is personal, not political, and with each shift in point-of-view from Roy to Celestial and eventually to Andre we’re more invested in their well-being. We’re itching to know if Roy and Celestial’s marriage can survive something so dreadful, and we’re dying to know which will triumph: love, or scruples ... It’s rife with all of the romantic and familial drama of any movie, but the real joy is that it boasts the character exposition and contemplation that a two-hour film can’t, all while maintaining the endearing trappings of good old-fashioned black cinema: powerful flashbacks, earnest narrators, and spot-on black culture references.
This all sounds like a daytime soap opera, but it doesn’t read that way because Ms. Jones writes with such companionable intelligence ... Her confusion, though, makes for a muddled finale. Since Celestial appears to have no clear idea of what her marriage means to her—was it founded on love? desire? mere convenience?—it’s hard to become invested in Roy’s attempts to salvage it.
...an immensely readable novel, packed with ideas and emotion ... Jones neither elaborates on the circumstances of the assault, nor the subsequent trial; the reader is simply given to understand that a black man, in the wrong place at the wrong time, will find retribution meted out swiftly and unquestioningly ...Jones’s cleverness is to leave this monolithic fact to function as a sinkhole at the centre of the novel; a fundamental instability that threatens everything around it, irrespective of the state of play before it opens up ... It’s the complex individuality of all the novel’s characters that allows it to become much more than its simple storyline suggests...it brings to life two distinct worlds...
An American Marriage is an intricately crafted novel that focuses on the specific lives of its characters and yet asks enormous and thought-provoking questions about race and incarceration in America ... An American Marriage is an engrossing novel about many things, but at its heart, it’s a love story, a uniquely American love story. And while it focuses on romantic love, it’s also a novel that examines platonic and familial love, as well as the need and desire for home.
...as in every truly masterful story, the facts only tell part of the tale. Jones has dared to go deep. And we readers have to go with her. This is a novel crafted, rather than told. Carefully considered and examined ... The novel unfolds seamlessly and naturally for the unsuspecting reader, whose perspectives on life and marriage, responsibility and survival, the challenges that break us and the ones that make us strong, are about to be disturbed, if not subverted. It asks the 'Big Questions' that loom in the middle of the night when our squabbles have grown into hardened grievances and life has given us a backhanded slap.
... is as much an exploration of modern gender roles as it is an inquiry into social justice, particularly the male burden ... a marvellous feat of storytelling, told with the type of light touch that can only be achieved through hard work. Any reader will warm to the characters’ southern lilt, with its gentle formality, a courtliness that has all but vanished from any other English-speaking part of the world.
This is a complex novel that goes well beyond the plot elements of infidelity and racism to explore the intricacies of family and romantic relationships in modern America ... One flaw — we are never told the full forensics of why Roy was convicted, and despite the painful truth that many a black man has been falsely imprisoned, it would have been good to understand that fully. Still, this is a drama, not a mystery, and a wrenching and fine one, at that.
It would be easy to file Tayari Jones’ freshly anointed Oprah’s Book Club pick in the eat-your-vegetables domain of the Issues Novel, a timely polemic on race and justice. Instead it delivers something much warmer and subtler and more human — a deeply felt, fully lived-in love story ... it’s impossible not to feel altered by Marriage — not gladly, exactly, but still for the better.
An American Marriage is that rare treasure, a novel that pulls you under like a fever dream, a novel whose pages you start to ration midway through, a novel you miss like a lover the minute you kiss its final page goodbye ... a searing, disturbing critique of America — the generational, geographic and gender gaps that rend even the most loving couples and families; the separate and unequal treatment of African Americans in the penal system; the lingering lash of slavery that still stings today. An American Marriage is a gripping, masterfully crafted message in a bottle.
Tayari Jones’ fourth and best novel … A novel that creates three fully rounded and internally conflicted characters from this love triangle while nevertheless nimbly refusing to take sides. Easier said than done, when one considers the circumstances leading to Celestial’s dilemma … Jones writes about marriage with an equally sophisticated awareness that the substance is in the details, not all of them pretty. Marriage, one of Jones’ characters says, teaches you your limitations. As with the murders that haunt Jones’ Leaving Atlanta and the personal betrayal that sows a whirlwind in Silver Sparrow, Jones’ characters here try and fail to outrun the limitations of their own history – itself forever entangled in the fractured history of black America.
The radiantly talented Tayari Jones has written a deeply beautiful and painful novel that examines the crush of false imprisonment … This marriage blends country and sophistication, poverty and prosperity, which Tayari Jones captures with fresh truths throughout the book … An American Marriage is suspenseful, as one worries how — or if — these two sparkling young people and their promising union can withstand what’s befallen them.
A tale of injustice, black incarceration, and interrupted lives … There are so many threads to a story like this, but author Tayari Jones doesn’t draw on them all. The crime Roy is accused of and the evidence leading to his trial and sentencing are largely left out of the narrative. How that injustice would wrench the couple apart and also draw them together could have been explored more deeply and to great effect here. But many readers will accept this gap because of the strength of the voice … Most of the psychological tension in this book comes from plotting rather than from the chemistry among characters. The letters between Roy and Celestial feel chatty and authentic, but when the two are finally reunited, the weight of the years and what might have been doesn’t lie between them very tangibly.
This novel is peopled by vividly realized, individual characters and driven by interpersonal drama, but it is also very much about being black in contemporary America ... This is, at its heart, a love story, but a love story warped by racial injustice. And, in it, Jones suggests that racial injustice haunts the African-American story. Subtle, well-crafted, and powerful.
The dialogue—especially the letters between Roy and Celestial—are sometimes too heavily weighted by exposition, and the language slides toward melodrama. But the central conflict is masterfully executed: Jones uses her love triangle to explore simmering class tensions and reverberating racial injustice in the contemporary South, while also delivering a satisfying romantic drama.