An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

A highly anticipated novel An American Marriage will top many best of 2018 lists I’m sure. Especially after the novel made it into Oprah’s Book Club.

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. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.


An American Marriage starts in the early marriage of Roy and Celestial. Like all young newlyweds, they are figuring out who they are as a couple and how their lives will work together.

Throughout the novel, we become a witness to their relationship – its inception, Roy’s incarceration and his release from prison. Each character speaks directly to us, alternating by chapter; sometimes to offer perspectives to both sides of an event, others to show the passage of time.

An American Marriage never touches on the question of Roy’s innocence and is not a novel about the American judicial system or about who really committed the crime. From Roy’s conviction, the future they were building starts to collapse. Both feel the awkwardness of returning to letters while Roy is incarcerated. I loved the way the letters conveyed a fight between the two of them, it was really interesting to have it told from both male and female perspectives. Prison created such a standpoint for their relationship – Roy has lots of empty time to idealise his relationship with Celestial but she has time while her life moves on to think about who Roy is and how she wants to live the rest of her life.

At its core, an American Marriage is a uniquely American love story. Its characters are unique with their own faults and through Jones’ compelling storytelling we truly understand the thoughts and motivations from both Roy and Celestial. Painfully we are forced to truly consider what each owes to the relationship and to each other after so much time apart. What are the boundaries of their responsibilities? I felt as though Roy and Celestial are pleading for our understanding or forgiveness. It certainly makes you think and look at marriage from an entirely different point of view.

You need a book to truly engage with and deeply makes you think
If you liked this review try Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff next!





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