An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

33590210Fiction — print. Algonquin Books, 2018. Print. 308 pgs. Borrowed from a friend.

Celestial and Roy are a young couple in Atlanta with a marriage that can be both wonderful and rocky. Roy’s career in sales has afforded her the opportunity to chase her dream of making handmade baby dolls, and the two of them are contemplating having the child that both sets of parents long for.

Their dreams are put on hold after a trip to Louisiana to visit Roy’s parents, after a woman staying in the same motel accuses Roy of attacking her in the night. Sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit, Roy and Celestial are forced to decide how to move forward as a family, as a couple, as individuals. Decisions that become even more pressing when Roy’s conviction is overturned after five years on imprisonment.

The structure of this novel changes with the changing of time in the story. Jones begins her novel alternating between Roy and Celestial’s points of view followed by a short, epistolary section as Roy serves time in prison. The bulk of the novel is dedicated to the after and the points of view of the love triangle: the wife, the best friend, and the husband.

Despite how short it was in the context of the whole novel, the epistolary section swept me into the story. In the letters Roy, Celestial, and other family members trade, the slow breakdown of the relationship unfolds, allowing the animosity that builds over a situation one cannot change to creep into both the story and the reader.

The rest of the novel is beautifully written, although not as standout as the epistolary section. As much as I wanted to reach the conclusion as fast as possible, I also wanted to savor my time with Jones’ descriptions and dialogue and enjoy the way she twisted my emotions with each page.

That said, in my eyes, the love triangle really weakened the quality of the novel. It felt contrite and obvious, and I wanted Jones to do something more unique with her characters. However, I did ultimately end up like the ending; it rang true given the differences in Celestial and Roy’s socioeconomic backgrounds and outlooks. I’m eager to try one of Jones’ old novels as I wait for whatever she writes next.

This is my second book for #20BooksofSummer. I snagged a copy of ‘An American Marriage’ from a member of my book club who brings in her old Book of the Month picks and doles them out to whoever wants them. She raved about this book, and I couldn’t resist taking it home. 

Edited on June 5, 2019 to add that Jones’ novel won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019.


    • I had only seen glowing reviews until I posted my own. I guess the book has reached that tipping point where more and more pick it up because it’s gotten such good buzz.


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