by Tayari Jones
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
Roy and Celestial are in love and married for a year and change. Their story starts out with a working marriage. Roy is happy with his wife and his greatest concern is how he can get his mother and wife to be friends. There are cracks in the tapestry. Celestial suspects Roy is not entirely faithful, and Roy is determined to prove her wrong. There is the problem of the in-laws who might or might not like Celestial. The serious pressure from both pair of parents to get a child. Roy and Celestial are living a relatively happy life until Roy is arrested and falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. Celestial becomes a wife to an incarcerated man. Roy becomes a husband locked away for a whopping twelve years. Their new dynamic strips them of dignity, long held expectations and dreams, and a challenge on commitment begins.
I enjoyed how real Roy and Celestial are portrayed in this book. Their relationship is far from perfect. They fight and make up. They even have a phrase to help them get back from the edge, to escape irrevocable damage. They might have worked out their differences with time. When they are forced apart…pulled asunder by the law of the land, their life changes.
Absence takes hold of them and a new path starts for Roy and Celestial.
An American Marriage explores relationships between parents and their children. Roy’s parents have a very strong impact on his life, and on Celestial. Celestial’s parents also play a role for Roy and what he believes his dreams to be. The most interesting relationships were between fathers and sons. Roy had two, and at a point this hidden truth results in a fight between him and Celestial. Much later, it plays a role in getting Roy through a difficult five years in prison.
At the heart of this story is a relationship between a man and his wife, and Celestial’s best friend, Andre. At one point Celestial Davenport thinks “…I never imagined myself to be the kind of woman who would find herself with both a husband and a fiancé…” Roy cannot accept this reality and does his best to fight for his rights as a husband when he gets out. After all he was innocent when he went to jail, he did the time and hoped his wife would still be where he left her when he got out.
Yet, Absence grew in five long years, life continued and did not stay still when Roy was inside. Celestial’s choice to have Andre as a fiancé is harsh on Roy. She comes off as disloyal, but maybe their relationship was already on shaky ground from the start. It would not have been strong enough to withstand five long years of absence. The true tragedy here is the catalyst of Roy’s incarceration. Without the false accusation, Roy and Celestial would have continued on, living their lives as they were.