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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: An American Marriage

An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

There may be something in the fact that this book is called An American Marriage and that it made me so incredibly angry at times. Part of my anger was directed at the injustices that were on full display throughout the novel. This is a story of a black man, wrongfully convicted of a crime, who loses so much. But most of my anger was directed at the characters at the center of this story—how they could be so despicable and unfair to one another.

Celestial and Roy's marriage is based on passionate love and selfish gain. They want the best their spouse has to offer and when that isn't good enough, they have no qualms with wounding one another. Ultimately, it's all about their individual wants and needs. Both Celestial and Roy have their fair share of flaws. Add best friend Andre into the mix and you have three horrible people, each justifying their actions as moral and necessary.

Repeatedly, I found myself taking sides. Roy would do something beyond forgiveness and I'd side with Celestial. Then Celestial would one up Roy. Back and forth, these two characters along with Andre elicited strong emotions from this reader. That's good writing, but it's infuriating. So while I wanted to throw the book in the trash on more than one occasion, I couldn't fault the novel or the author for this intense displeasure.

What's most impressive about An American Marriage is how much happens in such a tight space. The story itself has enough content to fill another couple hundred pages. Jones uses the space most effectively, weaving tight sentences and keeping the story focused. Also, the novel tackles themes of not only injustice, but loyalty and betrayal, love and marriage, dreams and realities, pride and human frailty.

An excellent, balanced depiction of how injustice can harm, An American Marriage is a riveting story that's biggest flaw is that it fizzles at the end. Many readers say “the ending disappoints” about a great many books. I guess we have an idea of how we want a book to end and when it doesn't shape our predetermined mold, we like to express that we could've done better. I try not to raise this complaint often as I do recognize that it is trite. I have no desire to say “I could've done it better,” as I doubt I could have; regardless of the direction Jones decides to go, I felt that she tried to wrap up the story much too quickly. It's all so neatly packaged up to a point, then it feels like a bow is haphazardly thrown on the whole thing so it could meet that magic 300 page limit. It's a great novel overall, but I really hoped for more weight in those concluding chapters.

I've been meaning to read more of Tayari Jones' work ever since she first made an impression on me with her contributions to The Secret Miracle. I strongly agreed with several of the answers she provided about her writing practices and beliefs. I'm glad the release of this novel pressured me to return to her work. With the imprint left behind by An American Marriage, I am hopeful that I will get around to her first two novels before she publishes her next.