It took me almost a month to finish Tayari Jones's novel An American Marriage, but don't let that fact dissuade you from reading it. It didn't take me a long time to finish because it was
disappointing or bad in some way; instead, it was so good I couldn't read it for long. So good at relaying sadness and pain, I mean, and since I was immediately hooked to the characters, I didn't want them to feel what they had to feel and I also didn't want to vicariously feel what they would feel.
Even though I wanted to know what happens.
An American Marriage is the story of Celestial and Roy, who are newlyweds living in Atlanta. They don't have a perfect marriage—has Roy already cheated? The reader can't really be sure, and the relationship between the couple and the two sets of in-laws is fraught—but it feels like a real one. But this American marriage isn't going to be challenged the way many are, not by cheating or money issues or infertility or anything else. Instead, Roy is put into prison for a crime he didn't commit.
Partly that is all I want to tell you about this novel: it's the story of what happens to a young marriage when such an unfair and difficult intrusion is thrust into it. Because I want you to read it, and I don't want to tell you what happens because I want you to experience it. Even if it's painful. Even if it takes you a month.
I loved this book.
For what it intuits about marriage, intimacy, history, family, race, the violence of American society. But also the structure (it's partly told in letters) and because Celestial was infuriating to me but I also understood her choices, and because sometimes I wanted to shake Roy and sometimes just hug him, and because nothing is fair. And because the tree on the cover will make sense.
Because when I did finally finish it, the last fifty pages all at once, it broke me right open and I wept. That good, painful crying that good books can bring you, when the characters' pain is, for a minute, yours except you know that, thank God, this isn't really your pain.
But at the same time, some of their pains are the same as mine, because I am married. And I am a human.
And that's all I'm going to say about An American Marriage. Except, this too: I hope you'll read it. And let me know if you loved it, too. Even if it's a painful story.