Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Book Review: An American Marriage

Normally I don't read Oprah Book Club picks because, while I think Oprah is pretty great, her book picks are always kind of blah. Except for that James Frey book that turned out to not totally be a memoir, but fictionalized memoirs are a real thing now and I think we all have him to thank for it. I actually really liked his book. The last time I read an Oprah book is when I read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and it was so bad I told the librarian at my public library (where I got the book) and I wrote a letter to Oprah. Did she read my letter? Doubtful. But if she had she would have heard all the ways in which that was a terrible book.

I got this one for my birthday and I had been eyeing it up at Target after I heard about it on a podcast and I finally got to it.

An American Marriage - Tayari Jones
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-elusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel. 

Let me be upfront, I feel like reading this book as a white person is a completely different experience than reading this book as a black person. I feel like that's how it's supposed to be, so any criticisms I have of this book, take it with a grain of salt because your experience may be vastly different. It was really hard for me to identify with these characters and understand the dynamic between them and their families and everything in between because this isn't a life I know or understand. I can't ever understand and I won't pretend to because I'm as white as white gets.

So with all of that, I really struggled through this book. I will say it's an incredibly fast read and I got through it in one sitting because I desperately wanted to know what was going to happen with Roy and I felt like the end of the book was incredibly heartbreaking. When I put the book down at the end I really didn't know how I felt. On one hand, I recognize that law enforcement and the American justice system is not set up to help black people and it isn't necessarily set up to find the truth.

In this book we have Roy and Celestial, who are recently married and the book starts off with Celestial very much not wanting to go back to Roy's hometown to visit his folks. She gets an uneasy feeling and Roy brushes her off. Which, let's side note- never, EVER brush off a woman's intuition. We're always right. Roy comes to learn that years later, but I knew right then that her feeling was going to be pivotal. Anyways, while there we see the uneasy relationship between Celestial and Roy's parents, we learn a truth Roy had "hid" from Celestial, and then we jump to Roy being accused and ultimately sent to prison for a rape of a woman he did not commit. But even though we know something to the core of us, the justice system is set up to make us all believe maybe they DID do it? and we start second guessing the truths that we know. And of course, Celestial knows that there are things about Roy she doesn't know so maybe  he COULD do this.

The majority of the book are letters between Roy and Celestial and they learn more about each other through letters than they ever did dating (which is also another thing to think about, we're getting married but how much can you really know of a person? Is it possible to know everything?). But ultimately, can a love survive something like this? What would you do if your spouse was accused of something and sent to prison- could you stick by them? Would you stick by them? It gave me a lot to think about in terms of my own marriage but I can't imagine what this would be like if I were a black woman. The stigma around your spouse being in prison, or a black man- of course you were in prison, that sits with you for life. Also, are people going to believe him that he didn't do it long after he's done his time? No, that's not likely.

I think this book questions what a marriage is, I think it questions your feelings on systemic racism and our own bias and conclusion, and it questions America, is it really the land of the free? I have a lot of other thoughts but it gives away some key points in the plot that are perfectly timed in the story so I can't talk about them. I will say real quick it reminded me of the Kavanaugh hearings where his side really based his defense on how can she possibly remember his face after all this time, and in this book that wasn't even a thought, "Of course the rape victim could identify him, you don't forget that."- it was an interesting turn of the tables and I thought it was smart for the author to subtly include that.

Overall? 4 stars. It was a quick read and it got me thinking about different things. This would lead to a rather spirited book club read, and I can see why it's gotten the buzz it has. Well deserved.

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1 comment:

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I do want to read this one. I think it will definitely be a different experience reading it as a white person, but as long as you're aware of that, it's a start, right? It's good to get different perspectives and it's one reason I love reading.