Staff Review: "An American Marriage"
Roy and Celestial have been married for just one year. As part of their first anniversary, the couple visits Roy’s parents and the small Louisiana town where he grew up. After a disagreement in their hotel room, Roy decides to give Celestial some space and go for a walk. Later that night, the police burst into their room and arrest Roy, accusing him of rape. Roy is adamant that he is innocent, and Celestial believes he’s telling the truth. The court disagrees, however, and Roy is eventually sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Life apart is difficult for them both, with Roy facing the loss of his freedom and having to learn how to survive prison. Celestial, on the other hand, starts her own business and finds comfort in her childhood friend Andre. Over the years, major life events occur that affect all three of them in major ways.
The book unfolds mainly through letters that Roy sends or receives while in prison and through first-person narration from Roy, Celestial and Andre. I appreciated the parallels that author Tayari Jones made between the three protagonists and their parents, which allows the reader to lament on what truly constitutes a marriage today. The book also speaks to the American justice system’s treatment of African Americans and the long-lasting ripple effect incarceration can have on a person’s life.