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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-25 23:17
Audio version
An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

This is a review of the audio edition and deals with an issue that may only apply to the audio edition.

 

                There are times when I think an audio book is, in fact, superior, to the written form.  For instance, Lincoln at the Bardo.  If I had read that, having brought it thinking it was a novel, I pretty sure I would have been frustrated at the format.  But the audio book, with all those voice actors – that worked for me.  My reaction to this book is heavily influenced by the structure of the audio performances.  Both Mr. Crisden and Ms. Davis gave stellar performances, and it wouldn’t surprise if they get nominated for awards.  The book itself, in terms of writing, is powerful.  The subject matter timely – how the justice systems harms more than those who are unjustly accused, in large part, because of the color of their skin.  Roy, one of the men who tells part of the story, is married to Celestial.  Not quite newlyweds, but the first brush is still on the fruit, when he gets falsely accused of rape, found guilty, sentenced, and finally released after five years when the injustice of the system was brought to light.  What happens to the marriage in that five-year span and once Roy gets out is the subject matter of the book.  In addition, to the examination of “justice” on a family, Jones also looks at how gender roles play into that effect.

 

                Jones deserves much credit because it is a bit hard to like Roy.  You can feel sorry for him, you can admit the injustice and cruelty of what happened to him.  Yet, even before his injustice, he doesn’t quite see Celestial as hers, and not his.  But the reader shouldn’t lose sight of his stepping out on his marriage with Celestial.  No, I’m not talking about what happens when he leaves jail, but before.  Roy never directly says he physically cheated, but he mentions that 99% of the time he didn’t got beyond flirting (so 1% of the time he did, is the inference), and he brought lingerie for another woman.  Maybe Celestial didn’t care if it was just sex, maybe she did.  The listener doesn’t know.

                And that’s the problem with the audio version.

 

                The story is told via three viewpoints – Roy, Andre (Celestial’s oldest friend and, later, her partner), and Celestial.  Part of the story is told though letters that Roy and Celestial send each other, most notably when Roy is in jail.  When those letters are read, the listener hears Celestial via Roy’ voice or his view of her voice.  IN other words, Crisden’s voice (or his voice trying to do a woman’s) instead of Eisa Davis’.

 

                Which means, this story of a marriage, is largely told by Roy and Andre – Celestial has the smallest voice in the whole audio book.

 

                Now, this might be intentional.  Look at the symbolism of her name, for instance.  Roy is the one that things happen to, the one who loses the most, so it is understandable that it is his story.  But like all of us, Roy is not a 100% reliable narrator.  Look, I am only talking how we all unreliable narrators whether or not we knowingly are. 

 

                The thing is, if this is a story about a marriage, then we need Celestial’s voice. IN her own voice.  Being read Celestial’s letters in the voice of Roy makes her too removed from the reader.  The inflection and emphasis on certain things change.  Now, this could be Jones’ intention.  It really could be.  And if it is, it works really well.  But in an audio book it is immensely annoying because the listener gets use to fake Celestial voice as opposed to real Celestial voice.  This is incredibly jarring.  So, jarring.

 

                And fake Celestial’s voice is so whiny.

 

                And then Roy, understandably so, frames things in a way that rubs you the wrong way (talking credit, in part, for Celestial’s store). 

 

                But the loss of a marriage, whether or not that marriage would have worked, is such a palpable feeling as well as the sense of relief that characters like Andre feel because it didn’t happen to them.  The pressures that are brought on Celestial because she is a black woman married to a black man who has been unjustly locked up are also dealt with. 

 

                It is a really a beautifully written and thought-provoking book.

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-23 14:53
Question
An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

I've clicked the spoiler box, but I'm going to be pretty much spoiler free.  Comments might not be.

 

Has any one read this?  I'm listening to the audio.  And depsite a line that is  "the chilly evening was cool" or something like that, the writing is pretty good.  The way Jones writes about houses is poetry.

 

The book is three points of view - Roy, Celestial, and Andre (and the audio uses two readers - one male, one female).  In the audio, so far, there is more of Roy and D'Andre narrating the story and telling the reader/listener what Celestial said.  It's strange because in the audio, the male reader changes his voice to a quasi woman's voice when Roy or Andre relates what Celestial says.  It makes her sound passive and a bit whiny.  It also is like why do you care about this woman.  When Celestial herself speaks, the impact is different. This is highlighted by the fact Celestial has less space than the men (who are pissing me off a little).

 

In the physical book, if you are reading it and not listening to it, does Celestial come across as whiny, passive in those sections?

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review 2018-03-13 16:55
Family dynamics, racism, and an unjust legal system are exposed.
An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

An American Marriage: A novel, Tayari Jones, author; Sean Crisdon, Elsa Davis, narrators

Three friends are caught up in a love triangle that threatens to tear them apart. Andre Maurice Tucker introduces Celestial Gloriana Davenport to Roy Othaniel Hamilton Jr. Andre and Celestial are neighbors living in an affluent area of successful people. They grew up together and are the dearest of friends. Roy grew up in a different economic situation, but with honest, hard working parents who did the best they could to provide him with everything he could need. Each of these characters had a past and many secrets. Were Andre and Celestial just friends? How close were they really? Roy’s background and parentage was up for debate. Celestial left Howard University after an incident. Why did she leave?

Roy falls in love with Celestial and they decide to marry. Is it possible for someone with a bit of a roving eye to be faithful? Can two people from completely different backgrounds overcome their differences? After visiting Roy’s parents, Roy and Celestial have a fight and wind up sleeping in a motel instead of in his parent’s home in Eloe. While there, he goes to the ice machine and tells a strange woman about his fight with his wife. Later that night, the police burst into Roy and Celestial’s room and arrest him for the rape of the woman in room 206, the woman he met at the ice machine. She is positive that he is the man who attacked her.

Although he has an alibi, since he was in bed, sleeping with his wife, he is sent away for 12 years. Roy had been an up and coming executive. His career path is destroyed by his incarceration and he is helpless to do anything about it but file appeals. Celestial’s uncle represents him honestly and earnestly, but wrongful convictions of black men are not uncommon. The author introduces us to his life in prison. After several different cellmates, he finally gets a permanent one, Othaniel Jenkins. Imagine his surprise when he learns the true identity of the man who shares his cell, a man who makes it his business to keep him safe during his term of imprisonment.

The reader also follows Celestial’s successful rise as an entrepreneur producing her handmade dolls. Her store thrives while Roy remains behind bars. Many of her poupee dolls are made in Roy’s image as he had inspired her to believe in herself and go into business. Do the dolls represent her love for him. As she makes other dolls, in the image of others, is her love for him diminishing? She doesn’t reveal her husband’s unjust situation.

Observing Andre as he stands by both Roy and Celestial, one has to wonder if platonic relationships really do exist. He has always been there for Celestial and he remains by her side, encouraging her and supporting her through this difficult time, but is that all he is doing?

A window is also opened up onto the family dynamics of such a tragedy. It not only affects Roy, it affects his family and Celestial’s. Celestial has difficulty dealing with Roy’s imprisonment, keeping Roy’s situation hidden from her business contacts, visiting him less and less as the trauma of the visits destroy her emotionally. Is she ashamed, even though she knows he is innocent? Is she afraid of the judgment of others? The stress of this false accusation falls on the shoulders of all those who are intimately involved with him and the consequences are far-reaching. In some instances, keeping silent protects them, in others it condemns them.

This book is also about how men and women respect their marriage vows, how they honor their spouses. It is about how relationships are interpreted, and this interpretation crosses color boundaries. Each of the characters moves the goalpost a bit farther when it comes to morality and ethics, in order to suit themselves, rationalizing their behavior with flimsy excuses they convince themselves are justified. This book is about marriage, the beginning, the middle and the end. This book exposes the even playing field regardless of background, culture, or race. It illuminates the difficulty of a single life, with and also without a child, but it also shows that it can successfully be dealt with by dedicated parents and determined men and women.  It is also about the lightness with which some men and women approach their marriage promises and their own sexual behavior, while they ignore the consequences of having a frivolous moment of pleasure. The author’s writing style brought the story to life, painting a clear picture of the lives of these characters. The reader will feel their frustration, joy, pain and anger. The reader will envision the contrast of prison life and the life of freedom, side by side.

I found Celestial to be rather selfish, a bit spoiled, but also self possessed. She chose to sometimes satisfy her own needs first, as she put aside the needs of others. Roy was alternately tender and sensitive, while underneath he was also arrogant and proud with a hidden volatility. He had some very unreal expectations and could be described as an accident waiting to happen, but in prison, all he had were hopes and dreams of a different future than his present state. Andre, I found, contained his feelings, keeping them hidden and in control until he couldn’t. Then it could portend disaster.

Celestial’s parents were both educated and successful. She was the apple of her father’s eye and he refused her very little. Andre’s mom raised him alone from the time he was a small boy. Her husband cheated on her and she threw him out. He knew his dad, but wasn’t that close to him since he had remarried and had begun a new life, creating another family. Roy was adopted by his stepfather and didn’t really know who his biological father was. He had abandoned his mother when she discovered her pregnancy, and he promptly disappeared. His parents adored him and worked hard to provide him with a better life and future than theirs. Each of the characters had personal ghosts and issues to overcome.

When someone goes to prison, however, not only the life of the incarcerated victim is interrupted. Those left behind are forced to continue on with their lives without him. As hard as it is for the prisoner, especially one wrongfully convicted, it is hard on those who support the one locked in, the one who lost his freedom. They have to make sure the prisoner is safe, has a lawyer working on appeals, and has enough money for the necessities of life behind bars. They have to keep that prisoner’s spirits up, as well.

This novel is not only about a marriage in all of its stages, it is about devotion, fidelity, morality, upward mobility, racism and coping. It is about trust and love, and perhaps the ability to learn to trust and love again. The book really levels the playing field between the white world and the world of color, laying waste to many stereotypical beliefs about black life and culture and makes the reader more aware of the similarities between the two. The writing style of the author leads the reader directly into the minds of the characters as one chapter after another spits out their own words as their lives play out, sometimes concurrently and sometimes separately. Each family member tries in his/her own way to succeed and fulfill their obligations and commitments for whatever reason may motivate them.

As the letters between Roy and Celestial grew more distant in time and in type of message, their forms of address, including the use of their pet names and endearments for each other grew cooler. Did it predict a change in their relationship? Was one growing without the other, or were both growing differently away from or toward the other.

The narrators did an excellent job of portraying the nature of each character without getting in the way of an authentic presentation.

 

 

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review 2018-03-12 16:28
An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

This was a dark, beautiful story. Dark due to the subject matter and beautiful due to the author's writing and the way she wrote about this great tragedy. While the story is fiction, the subject matter is not.

A happily married couple and their best friends' lives are changed forever due to the wrongful imprisonment of the husband. The story was told through three characters, their point of view, along with letters to and from the husband as a prisoner for five years. This story was written in such a way that you GET these characters. They became a part of me and while sad, very sad, I enjoyed the journey and the insight.

A wonderful read which I sped through and enjoyed very much.

Thanks to Algonquin Books and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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review 2018-03-07 04:43
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

I started this book at the beginning of February, but it was a super busy month, so I'm just now finishing it!

 

I took a couple of days after finishing to write this review because I really didn't know what to say about it. I still don't but I needed to post something. SUPER SPOILERY BELOW.

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