Book Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

jones_american-marriage_hc_hr_rgb.jpgPublished by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2018).

This book could have also turned into “An American Tragedy” but it saves itself from that reading on its deeply felt portrayals of so many good although imperfect people who are in conflict through no fault of their own. And then, there’s its strangely happy ending.

A novel simultaneously of Black America and also of middle class duplicity, the plot spins into an unexpected love triangle. The crisis is twofold (remember Charles Johnson who says that a novel must have two major complications?) First we have a marriage that, though somehow iffy, is happy. Iffy, because these people are conflicted about whether they want to have a child, and the story’s hero, Roy, wonders how this can be a real marriage if that’s such a problem. The second crisis is when Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.

It’s all but too much, but these characters are resilient and stubborn. It’s the characters, Roy Jr., who is imprisoned, his loyal stepfather, Roy Sr., and strangely, Andre (the interloper)  and the father who abandoned him, Carlos, that kept me reading. And then there’s Roy’s ‘biological’, his birth father who left his mother in the lurch: so, so real, and so, so, strangely sympathetic.  Jones has told her story in shared point of view, more often than not through these male characters. Although I admit at times I worried “is this what men really think, or is this just why men tell us women they’re thinking?” I remained intrigued.

How Jones worked the plot into its circular shape is a mystery to me.  The ending is as surprising as it is satisfying.  It’s a story which stays with you after the action ends, and gives you faith that yes, things can still work out, in unexpected ways.

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Author: Susan Taylor Brand

Elementary teacher and blogger

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