I am in the minority. Other than the premise, I didn’t like anything about this book.
Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of the ‘American Dream’ (and the ‘New South’, which doesn’t mean much to me but I’m sure does for a US audience). They live in Atlanta, where Roy is an executive and Celestial, an emerging artist. Their life falls apart when Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a violent crime that Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Alone, Celestial begins to rely on Andre, her childhood friend and the man that introduced her to Roy. After five years, Roy’s conviction is overturned, and he expects to resume his life with Celestial, only to find that she has not been able to sustain her love for him.
The story is predictable, which is largely the point of the book. African Americans are incarcerated at a far greater rate than white Americans, and the ramifications of jail time are significant for the individuals rebuilding their lives and their families. Season 3 of the podcast Serial explored this very issue, providing horrifying insights into the inequities of the American justice system.
“That’s your fate as a black man. Carried by six or judged by twelve.”
Although An American Marriage provides a broad commentary on life in the ‘New South’, it is essentially a character-driven story, and this is where my enjoyment ended. Basically, I didn’t like Roy (note that liking a character is not essential for my enjoyment of a book). He was a chauvinistic, selfish, hypocritical, impulsive man-child. His attitude toward women was deplorable (his infidelities were dismissed as meaningless dalliances; he pressured women into unprotected sex; and had the belief that as the ‘man’, Celestial should do what he wanted). Is this the type of man that represents the ‘New South’? There’s nothing to aspire to in Roy.
There was an opportunity for Jones to say something about relationships between fathers and sons, particularly through the lens of African Americans (although my lens has been sharpened by the incomparable Ta-Nehisi Coates). However, aside from the character of Big Roy, who was tenderly portrayed, the relationships lacked emotional depth and context. Clearly, the men in the story know what being a ‘good man’ entails. None of them, with the exception of Big Roy, do much to show it when it counts. Is it because it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission? Or is it because the ‘system’ is against them from the outset?
I don’t believe that blood makes a family; kin is the circle you create, hands held tight. There is something to shared genetics, but the question is, what exactly is that something? It matters that I didn’t grow up with my father. It’s kind of like having one leg that’s a half inch shorter than the other. You can walk, but there will always be a dip.
There were some style issues for me – there’s only so many “Yes ma’ams” and “y’alls” I can read in one passage of dialogue, without it feeling overdone. There were also a couple of points in the plot that seemed farfetched.
The thing that enticed me to read this book – would you stay faithful to your partner if they were jailed for any length or time, and how? – was pretty much taken off the table by Jones early in the story, leaving me not wondering much at all, and certainly not caring about the fate of the characters.
2/5 As I said, minority.
If my childhood were a sandwich, there would be no meat hanging off the bread. We had what we needed and nothing more. “And nothing less,” my mama would have said, and then wrapped me in one of her lemon-drop hugs.
I don’t know what a lemon-drop hug is but I do know what a lemon drop martini is (delicious).
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (June 22): Belfast 11°-18° and Melbourne 6°-13°.