I can’t think when I’ve read a more addictive book. I was hooked from the moment I began reading.
SPOILER ALERT! I may be more revelatory than the usual review, but I think most let you know the basic story is that one and a half years into his marriage to Celestial, Roy, a black man, was falsely accused of rape and was sentenced to 12 years in jail.
Roy, the son of hardworking poor folks in Louisiana, was ambitious and had become successful. In New York he bumped into Celestial who he had met briefly while they were both in college in Atlanta. He was in New York for work and she was getting a graduate degree with a goal of becoming an artist. They fell in love and though their relationship was tempestuous, they married, and were living in Atlanta. Their had comfortably middle class black lives.
While they visited his parents in Louisiana, Roy was accused of rape and even Celestial’s high-powered lawyer uncle couldn’t keep him out of jail. The story of their ordeal is recounted by each of them, by the letters they wrote to each other while Roy was imprisoned, and by Celestial’s best friend, the proverbial boy next door, Andre. The author uses each character’s voice effectively so that the reader sees how events look from their own points of view.
While the racism that defines life in America is apparent in this story, that is not the whole focus of the story. This shows how people subject to random horror of racism honor, love, falter, support, and betray as all humans do. Roy notes that the woman who accused him was, in fact, raped, she just accused the wrong person. He recognized the pain and fear in her eyes in the courtroom as she truly thought he was the one. It becomes apparent that racism was evident in the prosecutorial misconduct in this case; Roy was freed after five years on that basis.
The complications of Celestial becoming a successful artist and her growing closeness to Andre, while Roy suffered in prison are explored. Celestial had to learn to live while he was gone. Roy recognizes that he both appreciated Andre being a pallbearer for his mother and hated that Andre took his place there. We come to know Roy’s father, who had learned to cook after Roy’s mother died, and noted that using Ritz crackers to bread the salmon cakes gives them a nutty flavor. We must watch as Roy comes to grips with the fact he will not regain his old life after five years in prison. All this and so much more make this a thoroughly satisfying book.
Tayari Jones, An American Marriage, Algonquin Books, 2018, 309 pages. Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.