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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Literary fiction

An American Marriage

BOTY FINALIST

Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to An American Marriage!

by Tayari Jones

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Quick take

Celestial and Roy are a year into marriage when Roy is sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. After he's exonerated, they must try to save a relationship that may have been damaged beyond repair.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_HeavyRead

    Heavy read

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MarriageIssues

    Marriage issues

Synopsis

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.

This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.

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An American Marriage

ONE

Bridge Music

ROY

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t. I’m a proud member of the first category. My wife, Celestial, used to say that I’m a country boy at the core, but I never cared for that designation. For one, I’m not from the country per se. Eloe, Louisiana, is a small town. When you hear “country,” you think raising crops, baling hay, and milking cows. Never in my life have I picked a single cotton boll, although my daddy did. I have never touched a horse, goat, or pig, nor have I any desire to. Celestial used to laugh, clarifying that she’s not saying I’m a farmer, just country. She is from Atlanta, and there was a case to be made that she is country, too. But let her tell it, she’s a “southern woman,” not to be confused with a “southern belle.” For some reason, “Georgia peach” is all right with her, and it’s all right with me, so there you have it.

Celestial thinks of herself as this cosmopolitan person, and she’s not wrong. However, she sleeps each night in the very house she grew up in. I, on the other hand, departed on the first thing smoking, exactly seventy-one hours after high school graduation. I would have left sooner, but the Trailways didn’t stop through Eloe every day. By the time the mailman brought my mama the cardboard tube containing my diploma, I was all moved into my dorm room at Morehouse College attending a special program for first-generation scholarship types. We were invited to show up two and a half months before the legacies, to get the lay of the land and bone up on the basics. Imagine twenty-three young black men watching Spike Lee’s School Daze and Sidney Poitier’s To Sir with Love on loop, and you either will or will not get the picture. Indoctrination isn’t always a bad thing.

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Member ratings (12,559)

  • Benita B.

    Baltimore, MD

    I was in awe of the writing, the twists and turns of the plot (some of which were happy surprises and some of which were very sad), and I was so enthralled with each and every character. Readers should know that this book is more than a love story; it is an examination of how life's sudden turns can define or redefine us.

  • Marine J.

    Brighton, MA

    An American Marriage is gripping and compelling beyond belief--a siren's song of a novel that urges to be picked up the minute you have set it down. It is poignant, raw, and, at times, slow but always deeply rewarding. The writing is delicate, precise, and eloquent.

  • Kerry B.

    Simpsonville, SC

    I felt every single emotion each character experienced throughout this book — a testament to Tayari Jones’ writing. It’s a sad work to soldier through, but worth the journey. It’s truth. It’s reality.

  • Conner H.

    Fort Collins, CO

    The book isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions. It’s riddled with beautiful imagery and thoughtful metaphor, but also grounded in heart wrenching realism. The characters are so visceral it’s scary.

  • Kourtney S.

    Killeen, TX

    I HATED how the book ended. But it captivated me from the first few pages. I’m going to have to invest in more of Ms. Jones’s books. I wonder if in Celestial’s position would I stay with Roy or go.

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