Tayari Jones’ latest novel An American Marriage begins like most marriages, with a robust, blissful and of your own volition “I do,” but as the novel progresses, and the secrets unearthed, you the reader will wonder “do I?”
Roy and Celestial did more than just intend, they committed. Four years after graduating from Morehouse and Spelman respectively, the two met again during a chance encounter in Brooklyn and shortly after beginning the sweet yet intricate process of intertwining their lives together. The two wed and for 18 months enjoyed life as newlyweds. Roy, an entrepreneurial man by nature helped Celestial, a carefree artist get her business of handmade dolls off the ground. For one year and six months, Roy and Celestial did more than just intend, they committed.
While Celestial and Roy are visiting Roy’s parents, their young marriage gets cut short, when Roy is accused of a crime and sentenced. Their 18 months of marriage gets put up against a 12 year prison sentence and suddenly their commitment to one another is challenged.
Jones doesn’t bombard the reader with big words to express small ideas, instead the author uses simple words and simple writing to express the complex emotions that river throughout the book.
An entire chapter is dedicated to just the letters Roy and Celestial send one another. Roy’s gentle hubris quickly gets exfoliated to the raw meat of humility when he realizes he has nothing to offer his wife, who, in his unintended absence, has emerged into a successful artist and businesswoman. The needs of a woman, financial, physical and emotional cannot be met from his prison cell and Roy, with a clenched jaw acknowledges this truth, and comes just short of accepting it.
While Roy serves his time, Celestial finds comfort in Andre, her best friend from childhood and also the one who originally introduced Celestial to Roy. Taking another man’s wife has never been en vogue, and a love triangle emerges while Roy is in prison, before coming to a head when he’s finally granted his freedom.
An American Marriage proves that to love someone does not mean ownership of that person. Jones also shows that it’s in the time spent together, the routine of it all that helps to solidify any union. Celestial and Roy fell in love by choice, while readers may wonder if Andre and Celestial fell in love out of convenience. Jones makes it clear that both of these men need Celestial and her nurturing healing power, and Celestial knows that to offer it to one would ultimately kill the other.
An American Marriage is complicated, it’s messy, it’s bloody, it’s at your wits end. It’s suicidal, it’s inconvenient, it’s sexual, it whispers the responsibility of obligation. It’s heartbroken, it’s angry, it’s entitled, it’s rose colored glasses rubbed raw by the realities of life. An American Marriage makes you question if you’re ready to go through the hard times with the right one, and then wonder if you ever can truly know if the one you chose is the right one.
“To have and to hold” and “’til death do us part” don’t don the same attire after reading Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage.