An American Marriage

Tayari Jones

I had wanted to read An American Marriage, last year’s winner of the women’s prize for fiction, for a while now so when a friend offered to lend me her copy just as I was finishing my last book, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, I jumped at the chance.

The novel follows the story of a newly-wed African American couple after Roy gets convicted for a crime that Celestial is sure he didn’t commit. Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The start of the book is told through the letters the couple send to one another. The choice to structure the story in this way is an interesting one as it means that we simultaneously have access to some of the most intimate aspects of their lives whilst also only ever receiving an edited snapshot. You are privy only to what they each wish to share with the other, which you know must not be a complete story, but also gain insight into incredibly personal matters you would only ever share with the person closest to you. Although at points this was somewhat frustrating, I generally enjoyed this structure as it also gave the book a nice balance in perspectives.

The second two thirds of the book then alternate in perspective of the three main protagonists which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite realising I didn’t especially like any of them as characters. However, I think that my dislike of the three protagonists only served to add to the tragic element of the book. I was frustrated by all three of the main characters of this novel but found myself unable to fault any of them for their actions which was an interesting attitude to have to a novel and has also left me unable to decide how much I enjoyed reading it.

However, that is not to say that I do not have a great appreciation for this novel, and I without a doubt think that it tells an important story in a beautifully written way. This book explores race politics and the prejudice within the justice system and law enforcement in America, particularly in southern states. I felt that I was given an insight into a world and culture so far removed from my own which makes this book an invaluable book.

Overall, when finishing this book I was left with a feeling of sadness and an inability to to entirely pinpoint the origin of my frustration with this book but with no doubt in the value of this story being told.