The 2018 Oprah Book Club selection, An American Marriage, is a story about love, loyalty, injustice, difficult decisions, and following your heart.
I enjoyed this book and I’ll get into why I’m giving it 4 stars, but I’m a little disappointed. I felt as if this book didn’t go as deep as it could have. The story seemed very rushed to me and the crime that Roy was accused of committing happened so quickly that I had to reread to make sure I understood what happened. It was literally a quick paragraph then he was rushed to prison. I liked that this book utilized the letters written between Celestial and Roy in the beginning of his sentence because it allowed us to see their perspectives, but I felt like we were still missing a lot of the in-between details. I was not super emotionally connected to any of the characters like I am in other books, but I felt for them.
Roy, married to Celestial, is wrongfully convicted of a crime he didn’t commit but finds himself in jail with a 12 year sentence. After only a year and a half of marriage, Celestial tries her best to maintain a marriage while the other half of her is behind bars. It’s inevitable that as time goes on, the marriage grows apart. Celestial finds herself drifting away from her marriage with Roy and growing even closer to her childhood best friend AND Roy’s best friend, Andre. Roy wins his appeal case and is set free after serving 5 of his 12 year sentence. As he suspects, Roy senses that there is something more going on between Celestial and his best friend, but believes in his heart that Andre would never betray him while he was serving a prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Celestial and Andre must come clean now that Roy is released, but the feelings of guilt and betrayal are overwhelming.
Throughout the novel, I couldn’t decide if I was “team Roy” or “team Andre” because I could understand both sides of their stories. Roy, a black man from the South, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and serving an injustice for something he didn’t do while his best friend was shacking up with his wife. My heart broke for Roy; not only did his wife stop visiting him, but she wrote him a letter notifying him that she could no longer be his wife. Yes, a letter. Some time after that, his mother passed away from cancer. His life was spiraling out of control and there wasn’t one thing he could do to stop it. On Andre’s side, he’s known Celestial since they were babies and has loved her ever since. Their feelings were something they masked throughout their lifelong friendship, but given the circumstances, they found themselves in an awkward position. Their feelings were strong and real and they tried to stop them, but it was impossible. Andre loved Celestial more than anything in the world and while he felt guilty for hurting his best friend, he felt he needed to do what was right for his life. Afterall, everyone expected Roy to be in prison much longer than he actually was.
I gave this 4 stars because An American Marriage makes us think about issues that are happening in real-time: race, injustice, generational gaps, right and wrong. We learn about Roy and Andre’s childhoods, growing up as black men in the South without their fathers and watching their mom’s struggle to raise them. We learn (but we already know) that black men are so often pigeonholed into stereotypes where they don’t stand a chance. They’re wrongfully convicted and thrown to the bottom of the pile because that’s the society we live in. We learn that there is an obvious generational gap in the way marriage and commitment is understood. Loyalty and betrayal are questioned and we’re shown how hard love is. This novel is very raw and very real. Life (and love) is unfair and we learn this through Roy’s journey; not everyone has a fairytale ending.
“We [Andre and Celestial] believed we could talk this out, reasoning our way through this. But someone was going to pay for what happened to Roy, just as Roy paid for what happened to that woman. Someone always pays. Bullet don’t have nobody’s name on it, that’s what people say. I think the same is true for vengeance. Maybe even for love. It’s out there, random and deadly, like a tornado” – Tayari Jones, An American Marriage