Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

As the Women’s Prize for Fiction winner, I had extremely high hopes for An American Marriage and I’m glad to say it was a glorious read. In fact, it was very nearly perfect.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, which is a style that I really enjoy, so much so that I’m trying to practice this in my own writing. I find that looking at the same situation through multiple eyes really adds another dimension to a story and Tayari Jones achieves something brilliant with her three-way narrative.

An American Marriage is centred around a terrible miscarriage of justice, with main character, Roy, left to serve a prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. Celestial, his wife of 18-months, finds herself alone and torn between continuing to live her life and her duty to Roy.

Jones subtly weaves in the idea that the marriage between Roy and Celestial is somewhat uncertain prior to Roy’s imprisonment, which allows the rest of the story to unfold with ease. The duo are young, vibrant and in love, yet they’re also hot-headed, jealous and largely incompatible.

One of the things I found most interesting about this book was the lack of information given about Roy’s arrest and subsequent trial. The reader is given enough information to figure out that Roy was an innocent black man, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the detail is very minimal.

Instead, Jones focusses on the aftermath of Roy’s sentencing, almost glazing over how it happened completely. I think this was a brave and intelligent choice from the author, choosing to focus on love, loyalty and how life changes for so many characters on the outside as a result of this wrongful conviction.

With this, the idea of justice becomes about so much more than just being exonerated for the crime. How can Roy possibly come back from this when it has cost him everything – his career, his marriage and his dreams? The honest answer given through this story is that injustices such as this can never be truly corrected.

This is definitely a novel that stays with you long after it’s over and I took several days to digest it, pondering over how I felt about the ending. Initially, I wasn’t sure and felt a bit disappointed, however, I’ve now realised that actually the ending was exactly as it should have been – moving and poignant.

The strongest praise I can offer any book is that, as I was reading, I really didn’t want the story to end and that’s definitely how I felt about An American Marriage. It was thought-provoking, sincere and utterly fantastic!

Goodreads rating – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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