An American Marriage

by Tayari Jones

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 283

Told from the alternating perspectives of Roy, Celestial, and Andre, as well as through the letters they write each other while he is incarcerated, Tayari Jones’s novel explores a wide range of issues that African Americans confront today. Although the young couple was aware of the challenges before them, they had become convinced that US life had changed for the better for black people, at least to the point that they personally would not be targeted. Roy’s arrest changes their minds about the state of inequality as it changes both of their lives forever. At first the question of whether he will be convicted seems paramount, but once that occurs and he is incarcerated, the emphasis shifts to whether their marriage will survive. The character of Andre, Roy’s boyhood friend who becomes Celestial’s lover, complicates the situation even further.

At the same time a meditation on love and what it can survive, the novel addresses the contrasting issues of systemic inequality and the aspirations of upwardly mobile, middle-class young black people. Although Celestial manages to maintain, and increases, her professional success, she is bound by the knowledge that she could not withstand the pressure that other women had grappled with for so long. For Roy, the effort to stay alive, to stay safe, and to gain early release occupies his energy, as his wife’s concerns grow ever more distant. As the author adds the layer of Celestial’s infidelity while apart from Roy, and Andre’s inability to support his friend, the reader finds suspense as well as compassion, wondering if and how Roy will achieve release and then cope with the aftermath of rebuilding his shattered life.

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