Winner of the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction, An American Marriage is a novel about Celestial and Roy, a young, upwardly mobile black couple in Atlanta, whose marriage is torn apart when Roy is incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit.
[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.