After “much much much searching”, Oprah has found it. The book that resonates with her and will resonate with many others: An American Marriage.
As Oprah’s first book club pick of the year, this novel, written by Tayari Jones explores love, vulnerability, family, and the future in the face of inescapable adversity. Jones introduces us to Roy Hamilton and Celestial Davenport as young, African-American newly weds in the process of discovering themselves as well as their marriage. But this process is steeply interrupted; Roy is falsely accused of a crime that delivers him a lengthy sentence in prison and Celestial is left questioning how to move forward with her own life.
This epic-like journey is one that redefines love, forcing the couple to skip ahead from the stage of reckless, tempestuous romance and deal with the immense pressure placed on their relationship–– can it and will it survive?
Although it is the societal system around them that exploits their marriage, the novel’s families are left to handle the damage. Jones paints the environment they are enclosed by: “injustice in the criminal justice system — it's just in the air. Like hurricanes if you live on the East Coast or earthquakes if you live out West. It's just something that is”. Racial injustice is a threat to their marriage. Celestial, Roy, and their loved ones are victims of it.
By sharing the story of one incarcerated man, An American Marriage dives deep into scope of the internal consequences of mass incarceration within families without overlooking the complexity of the effects it has on relationships and bonds.
A crucial element of this story is the arbitrariness of the situation the protagonists find themselves submerged in. Through no decisions or actions of their own do they antecede the trials of their love, but it is their choices that will determine the life they now want. Maybe Celestial can convince herself to wait. Maybe Roy will understand that letting go is the only way he can preserve their love even if it doesn’t preserve their relationship.
Either way, Tayari Jones teaches us that it is not about who is “right” or “wrong” and that we must expose ourselves to the nuance of such issues. Her work of fiction reveals perspective and perception, establishing a microscopic understanding of each character to better recognize the conflicting, confusing nature of the plot. The novel is a model of real people and their real problems; that’s what makes it American.
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