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Thursday, May 2, 2019

An American Marriage

"What happens to you doesn't belong to you, only half concerns you. It's not yours. Not yours only.'' - Claudia Rankine 

An American Marriage has it all - memorable, multi-dimensional characters, unstoppable narrative momentum, muscular prose. If Tayari Jones's 2018 novel has a weakness, it escaped me. I'm looking forward to a rewarding discussion later this year when it's a selection for my book club. Anyone had an opportunity to discuss this winner at a club you belong to? If yes, I'm curious about the main focus of the discussion.

Although An American Marriage has a classic three act structure, a few unconventional choices help the novel feel fresh. The first of these choices is using three first person narrators. Also, more than half of Act One are letters exchanged between two of those narrators - newlyweds Roy Hamilton and Celestial Davenport - while Roy is in prison for a rape he did not commit. I was well into Act Two before I realized how effectively Jones had used the letters as a literary device. I was as distanced from the newlyweds as they were from each other.

But every important life event Roy misses while he is unjustly imprisoned hit me with full force as Jones did her magic in Acts Two & Three. Did I mention the pitch-perfect dialogue, the richness of the family relationships, the heartbreaking but unimprovable ending, the simple fact that this novel could not have any title except An American Marriage?            

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