BLOGGER ON BOOKS VIII (2020) – An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (audio book)

An American Marriage was an absorbing and emotional read. A newlywed goes to jail for a rape that he didn’t commit and we witness from multiple perspectives the strain it puts on his young marriage. Does the marriage survive his internment and release? That’s the main question. How the characters – him, his wife, his parents, the parent he never met before, her parents, her lover (yes, her lover), his lover (yes, his lover) are changed by his imprisonment, the lost years, and his release, reintegrating in to life, that’s the more enduring and uneasy question. It’s a timely read, as an indictment of America’s prison industrial complex and its hunger for Black lives (the book would argue Black male lives specifically, but the Sandra Blands of the world give me pause) but it’s really about the complexities of character and the challenges of communication. As with my other Tayari Jones read (and still my favourite) Silver Sparrow, the people in An American Marriage are not easy, they are as messily human as any of us – and this is one of Jones’ sweet spots. What I know for sure (Oprah reference for an Oprah’s Book Club pick) after reading two of her novels, you sometimes hate the characters you love and are sometimes frustrated with everyone – yikes, at that scene on the front lawn in which poor old hickey bears the brunt of everything. No one is ever totally right or totally wrong, and isn’t that just life. The book is from a multi-voice perspective – primarily, but not exclusively, the husband and wife, and this gives us the opportunity to see each person’s read on things (in its wrongness, and rightness, fully). The varying voices can be distracting; not in the book itself, in the voice acting (e.g. there is Celeste’s voice, which is fine, but then there is Celeste’s voice as done by the voice actor doing one of the male voices, which is the distracting part for me). I have a feeling I would have enjoyed it better if the only voices I had to contend with were the ones in my head. So clearly I’m still struggling with audio books, but the story itself is really worth the read, and the ending it gives you is at once a sad outcome and the best possible ending. Character complexities, rich southern flavor, timely societal resonance, and no easy answers; that’s An American Marriage in a nutshell; it’s a good read, go get it.

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