Prather’s Pick: A novel about injustice
“An American Marriage,” a novel by Tayari Jones, is this week’s Prather’s Pick. Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, it was a 2018 Oprah’s Book Club Selection.
The novel has a compelling plot. It is the story of three young African-American people: Roy, Celestial, and Andre. The setting is the South, and the story is told, in alternating chapters, from the point of view of the three characters.
As the novel opens, Roy is thinking back to the first year and a half of his marriage to Celestial. It has been a pretty happy time, and the couple is even thinking about having a baby. Roy is a young executive and Celestial is an artist. She particularly enjoys making dolls and has been offered serious money for some of her creations.
But then one night, Roy opens his wallet, and his business card falls out. Celestial can’t help but notice a woman’s first name, a phone number, and three digits — which she figures is a room number — written on it. Roy argues that the woman just wrote her information on the card; he’s innocent. This is the beginning of trust issues.
Then something happens to change everything. Roy and Celestial have gone to visit his father, Big Roy, and mother, Olive, in Eloe, Louisiana. Instead of staying at their home that night, Roy reserves a room at Motel Piney Woods, where the couple “had their first beginning.” Mistake!
Roy and Celestial are awakened by authorities who break into their room and drag them outside. They have come to arrest Roy. He’s been accused of raping a woman in room 206. Roy met the woman, about six years older than his mother, at the ice machine that same evening.
Roy stays locked up for 100 nights before he is brought to trial. Even with Celestial’s testimony that he was with her all night, Roy is convicted and sentenced to twelve years at Parson Correctional Center in Jenison, Louisiana.
A good portion of the book is devoted to letters through which the reader finds out what is going on for the young couple during Roy’s time in jail. Celestial continues to sew her dolls and starts a big business selling them. She turns to Andre, Roy’s best friend and her childhood friend for support.
Eventually, Celestial and Andre start to date—for two years, in fact. Meanwhile, Roy spends five years in prison. He discovers the identity of his biological father during this time, and his mother dies. Then Uncle Banks, his lawyer, works miracles and gets Roy released early.
The reader can feel the struggle within the three characters. Roy has to adapt to life outside prison again, and he’s hoping he still has a marriage with Celestial. Celestial knows that she wants Roy, but what if there is a dormant love for Roy inside her? All three struggle with the meaning of American marriage.
There’s a lot to this novel. The softcover book costs $16.95, but you can also find it, with new books, at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries.