January Book Club Pick: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

an american marriageThe first book meeting of the year is always an exciting time as we delve into our new list of books. However, in this case, the book pick was a carry over from last November when a lasts minute change in discussion leaders had to be arranged. I had not read the book until after the holidays when last weekend’s snowmageddon offered me the perfect indulgence to sit near a fire and marathon read when all other responsibilities had come to a screeching halt. So, while winter raged outside, I basked in the lovely prose and a warmer clime setting via Ms Jones’ portrait of a marriage in difficult circumstances and how to pick up those broken pieces of our lives to begin again, perhaps not as we had once hoped, but finding fulfillment in who we are now and where that could lead.

Those are themes uncovered in this story where a very modern young couple seemingly has everything going for them. Celestial and Roy know both the disadvantages dealt to them because of their race but also have benefitted from the advantages of growing up in close knit families with parents in stable marriages as examples. For the first year of marriage, Celestial and Roy are happy, successful in their chosen fields and looking to continue on an upwardly mobile path to bliss. There’s talk of children, and they are on the verge of taking that plunge into parenthood themselves, when life turns inexplicably wrong. A carefree romantic weekend at a hotel, chosen for its nostalgic memories, becomes their worst nightmare when Roy is charged with a crime against another woman also staying at the hotel. A speedy trial leads to a sentence of twelve years incarceration where he still never gives up hope he’ll be released and can pick up with his newlywed wife once again.

At our book club meeting on Wednesday, we all were well taken with this book, though, as usual, some more than others and always there are different interpretations on character and the subtle nuances of storytelling and craft.

Most thought the title a bit too general and vague. Does this story show a typical American marriage? But then, what is a typical marriage in America? There was also more than one marriage analyzed, given the story is not just about Celestial and Roy, but also delves into the backstory of both of their parents and the difficulties and sacrifices made along with the legacy they left their children.

I love books with complex flawed characters, especially for a book club read. This one was no exception to many we’ve read over the years. There were things to love and dislike about all three in this tangled love triangle. Roy admits to being a “player” even during the first year of his marriage when Celestial finds business cards with other women’s phone numbers in his coat pocket. Celestial seems more interested in her doll making and business model than in cementing their marriage with a potential child. While she makes a valiant effort to visit Roy during the first two years of his imprisonment, she soon falls away, yet still seems to rely on him and won’t completely let go. Enter Andre, who has worshipped Celestial from afar but now takes his chance while Roy is away. Each chapter alternates with one of these point of views in first person, some are written in epistolary form and others as long internal monologues. It made for a gripping story that certainly kept me turning pages both loving and loving to hate each of them in intervals.

The discussion went on for more than our hourly allotment even with only the following six questions to discuss. For a book to kick off our year of reading, this one was worth the wait. For our whole list of this year’s books click on the tab: Book Club 2019.

Discussion Questions for An American Marriage:

  1.  What did you think about the title of this novel? Does it represent the theme, plot or  characters well? How so?
  2. What did you think about the fact that the race of the woman who accuses Roy of rape is not even mentioned and there is very little information about the trial and how Roy was convicted?
  3. Do you think the three main characters have wobbly moral compasses? What do you think about Celestial, Roy and Andre and their interactions with one another and their justifications for the things they did?
  4. What did you think about Roy going to DaVina’s when he is released from prison
  5. What did you think about Roy setting up Andre to come and pick him up so he could get time alone first with Celestial?
  6. Do you think Roy and Celestial’s marriage would have survived even without the prison sentence?
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