An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
In a nutshell: Roy Jr and his wife Celestial have been married for a year and a half and are visiting his folks when a chance encounter at a hotel leads to a woman falsely accusing him of rape. He is convicted and sent away. This is the story of what happens next.
Worth quoting: “Is motherhood really optional when you’re a perfectly normal woman married to a perfectly normal man?” (This isn’t a huge plot point but I loved seeing that expectation of motherhood in print.)
Why I chose it: I’ve heard so many people speak so well of it that I finally decided to pick it up.
Review: There are many things in this book that I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine being falsely convicted of a crime. I can’t imagine my partner being sent away for many years, and having to figure out how to choose to live my life while apart. I can’t imagine trying to rebuild my life after getting out of prison. But I still related to the relationships in this book. Parents and children, partners, friends. These ideas are all explored under the stress of injustice and trauma, and it’s interesting to look at how everyone chooses to respond.
The book is told in three parts: before, during, and after Roy Jr is in prison. There isn’t a big focus on the crime or the trial; instead we learn a bit about the main characters, the false accusation happens, and we learn about the conviction. The middle part is told exclusively (I think) through letters between Roy Jr and various people – his wife, his wife’s best friend, his father, his attorney. It’s a well done convention that helps move the story along. The final part is told from the perspective of multiple characters who each have a unique voice.
I’m so glad I decided to read this. I don’t know why I resisted – I’ve said multiple times that I am not primarily a fiction reader but I think I need to suck it up that sometimes I’d rather learn more about the human condition from fiction than a well-written science book. I found the story interesting and well-crafted, and the ending satisfying.
Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it: Pass to a friend. I’m visiting my folks and will leave it in my sister’s room so she can check it out next time she visits.