An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
Tayari Jones is so deserving of all the awards she has won for this story, including the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. An American Marriage is a storming narrative telling gut-wrenching truths with a clear eye. It’s yet another of those that would have been admitted to the Hall of Great American Novels had Jones been a man or a white man. But there we go, we all know how brilliant she is.
I heard her say in a podcast that she got the idea for the story when she overheard a couple arguing in a shopping mall. The woman said, “Roy, you know you wouldn’ta waited for me for seven years.” And the man replied, “What are you talking about? This never woulda happened to you in the first place.”
It is the story of a young and upwardly mobile African American couple who are beginning their lives together when the husband, Roy, is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. What do they owe each other? The heroine, if we can call her that, is Celestial, a woman who does the unthinkable, a black woman who does the unthinkable, by waiting it out in her own way. I won’t drop a big spoiler here, but Jones examines what incarceration does to a person and what it does to a couple, a relationship, a family. And you need to read this book to find out just what that is.
Jones compares Celestial to Penelope who waits for Odysseus, and I’m reading Atwood’s The Penelopiad at the moment. What does a modern return look like?