An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is my favorite kind of book: literary, provocative and compulsively readable. A February Book of the Month selection and Oprah’s latest book club pick— it lives up to the hype.
Roy Hamilton is a black man born on the wrong side of the tracks who makes good with a college degree and sales career. His wife, Celestial Davenport, is beautiful and smart, from an upper-class family in Atlanta. Together they are a golden couple with a bright future. Then Roy is misidentified, wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison; and their marriage is tested.
As Roy works to adjust to his new reality, he clings to Celestial like a life raft. “You don't know how demoralizing it is to be a man with nothing to offer a woman.” But Celestial struggles to put her life on hold while she waits for her man. “I know you're innocent, there is not one doubt in my mind, but I also know that you're not here.”
An American Marriage is intimate and heartbreaking. Their story is “too tender to explain to strangers.” It is equal parts of hope and pain, like life. Jones does a fantastic job of creating gorgeously flawed characters who each win you over. Roy with his childhood, like a sandwich “with no meat hanging of the bread.” Celestial with her “scotch-and-Marlboros alto,” her voice “like the middle of the night.” There is no right or wrong side.
Jones’ writing is the type of subtle, well-crafted prose that you’ll want to read out loud to anyone within earshot. “When I was mad, I didn’t raise my voice. Instead, I lowered it to a register that you heard with your bones, not your ears.” Chills, I tell you.
Best paired with a feast of short ribs, mac and cheese, and corn pudding with two slices of wedding cake that has been sitting in the freezer for 365 days as dessert.