“Tayari Jones’s wise and compassionate new novel, “An American Marriage,” tells us a story we think we know. Roy, a young black man, is tried and wrongly convicted of rape while his wife, Celestial, waits for his return. But Jones’s story isn’t the one we are expecting, a courtroom drama or an examination of the prison-industrial complex; instead, it is a clear vision of the quiet devastation of a family. The novel focuses on the failed hopes of romantic love, disapproving in-laws, flawed families of origin, and the question of life with or without children that all married couples must negotiate. It is beautifully written, with many allusions to black music and culture — including the everyday poetry of the African-American community that begs to be heard.”
Stephanie Powell Watts, “A Marriage Upended, A Life Destroyed,” The New York Times,
“All my life I have been helped by leg-up programs—Head Start when I was five and Upward Bound all the way through. If I ever have kids, they will be able to pedal through life without training wheels, but I like to give credit where it is due.
“Atlanta is where I learned the rules and learned them quick. No one ever called me stupid. But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.”
“Memory is a queer creature, an eccentric curator. I still look back on that night, although not as often as I once did. How long can you live with your face twisted over your shoulder? No matter what people may say, this was not a failure to remember. I’m not sure it is a failure at all. When I say that I visit the Piney Woods Inn in my waking dreams, I’m not being defensive. It’s merely the truth. Like Aretha said,A woman’s only human. . . . She’s ﬂesh and blood, just like her man. No more, no less. My regret is how hard we argued that night, over his parents, of all things. We had fought harder even before we married, when we were playing at love, but those were tussles about our relationship. At the Piney Woods, we tangled about history, and there is no fair ﬁght to be waged about the past. Knowing something I didn’t, Roy called out “November,” stopping time. When he left with the ice bucket, I was glad for him to go.”