October 30

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I have a hunch this novel may end up being my book of the year.

Big call, yes, but I loved it that much.

I have read some real beauties this year (Hallelujah, the Book Gods have shone on me in 2018)  but there is just something so exquisite about An American Marriage that I just can’t see another book knocking it off numero uno spot.

Tayari Jones has written one of the most delicate, beautiful and heartbreaking stories about a marriage.  It is a love story between two ordinary people who get married and try to stay that way under impossible circumstances.  It really isn’t more complicated than that but at the hands of Jones, it almost feels ethereal.

Her first gift to us is a letter explaining how she even come up with the idea of the book.   She titles the letter on page 3 Dear Reader and it is such a sweet introduction and lovely explanation about how Roy and Celestial were dreamed into being.

Her language in the letter is entrée to the magnificent writing throughout – I found myself stopping, closing the book for a moment, to consider the words I had just read.  How she picked the most innocent and simple of ideas and described it in a way that felt like I was in the middle of something incredible, like I was eating the most delicious thing I had ever tasted!  It wasn’t that they were life-changing concepts. The ideas she wrote about, the way she described life and love,  were just simply perfectly beautiful and so full of wisdom.

Let me give you a quick synopsis but really, you should have stopped reading this review at the first sentence,  grabbed your car keys and driven to your nearest bookshop to pick it up.  Why are you still here?!!

The story is about newlyweds Roy and Celestial – an American dream couple who are just starting out in their life together.  They are full of hope and ambition but on one fateful night,  it disappears.  While visiting Roy’s parents in Louisiana, Roy is arrested and sent to jail for 12 years for a crime Celestial knows he did not commit.

For the next five years, Roy and Celestial share letters – at first gentle with love and longing,  later full of sadness and loneliness showing just how un-moored they had become.  Celestial finds solace in her oldest friend Andre (who is also Roy’s best mate) and loses hope despite her family continuing to fight to get Roy’s conviction appealed.

After five years they are successful and Roy walks free but not into the life he left.  Now an acclaimed artist,  Celestial has built the life she and Roy dreamed about – but with Andre.  Roy cannot give up without finding out for himself if there is any hope of reconciliation and so, they must come together.

How it ends is for you to find out but the entire journey is compelling and complicated and crushing. Do they re-unite? Do they retreat? Not telling – it is the surprise you find out at the end but from the first page to the last one, you will fall in love with Roy and Celestial, warts and all.

But that is my 2 cents worth.