Tag Archives: tayari jones

AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones

The title of An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, her latest novel after Silver Sparrow (reviewed here), suggests a large, epic story with lessons about our country and the relationships it houses. But An American Marriage is also a surprisingly small, intimate story about a tragic love story and the people it affected.

Roy and Celestial are an upscale African-American couple living in Atlanta who met at Morehouse and have been married about a year and a half. Celestial’s parents are wealthy, and she makes her living as an artist who creates artisan dolls. Roy works in sales, but has bigger ambitions. On a visit home to visit Roy’s parents in Louisiana, he is arrested after being falsely accused of committing a crime. He ends up in jail, sentenced to 12 years, while Celestial tries to rebuild her shattered world in Atlanta. She turns for comfort to her childhood friend Andre, the one who introduced her to Roy in college, leading to the third prong of the book’s central triangle.

Much of An American Marriage is told through letters between Celestial and Roy, as the reality of their situation sets in and they try to remain connected even as their lives progress in cruelly opposite directions. The rest of the novel is told through alternating chapters narrated by Celestial, Roy and Andre, giving them equal time as they bare their souls, fears and hopes. Jones expertly paints each character sympathetically, blurring guilt lines and deepening the tragedy of the situation. The story will not end without heartbreak – for any of them – but the suspense of just how it will resolve makes the pages turn quickly. Jones is an assured storyteller and An American Marriage is hard to put down.

Of course, the backdrop of An American Marriage is the pervasive racism of the justice system which landed these characters in their predicament. Class and money are not enough to save Roy from the fate of so many black men: incarcerated, his ambition and promise cut off at the knees by an indifferent judge and a society that doesn’t care. The book may appear quiet, even resigned, on this topic, but it’s there, the whole time – the institutional forces working against Roy and Celestial and the many other couples reunited briefly for visiting day at the prison.

There are a lot of themes at work in An American Marriage – loyalty, parenthood (there are all types of parent-child relationships here) and what we owe the ones we love. In Jones’ deft hands, these themes work beautifully in this very personal, almost quotidian story with a bigger message about the blatant inequity in our society.

 

July Book Club: SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones

The July EDIWTB book club selection was Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.

Jones Silver Sparrow is about James Witherspoon, a bigamist living in Atlanta in the 80s. He has two families – the public, legitimate one – which consists of his wife Laverne and his daughter Chaurisse, and the secret, illegitmate family – "wife" Gwen and daughter Dana. Chaurisse and Dana are the same age and often travel in the same circles, even though James' public family is better off and enjoys more luxuries than his private one.

Dana narrates the first half of the book, and we come to understand her love for both of her parents, as well as her obsession with her half-sister, for she has known about Chaurisse since she was little. Dana is pretty and smart, but she always feels inferior, like an outsider. She and her mother often stalk Chaurisse and Laverne, just to see what their lives are like, what they look like, etc. The second half of the book is told from Chaurisse's perspective. She and her mother are unaware of Dana and Gwen's existence. All they know is the middle-class life they've lived as a family of three.

James' relationships with Gwen and Laverne are very different – one is built on passion, one is built on responsibility and devotion. Similarly, James is a different father with Dana than with Chaurisse. But this is really a story of four women looking for the same thing: to be cherished, to feel special, to belong. Those universal desires are what makes the story heartbreaking, and what makes each character compelling and worthy of empathy.

About 2/3 of the way through the book, Dana and Chaurisse's lives intersect, and the story builds to the inevitable collision that the reader has expected from the beginning. Jones' writing is deceptively simple – Silver Sparrow is a smooth, easy read, but not a light one. It is full of narrative tension that propels the reader through the emotional minefields – current and inevitable – that the bigamist's life necessarily creates.

All that said, I finished the book a few days ago, and surprisingly, it hasn't really stayed with me. It didn't have the longevity that I expected it would.

Overall, I am really glad I read Silver Sparrow. I think that the attention it has received is deserved, and I am glad that I got to experience it. I'd love to read more by Tayari Jones.

Thanks so much to Algonquin for facilitating the EDIWTB book club for Silver Sparrow. And now… let's hear from you! What did you think of Silver Sparrow?

June/July Online Book Club: SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones

I am excited to announce the June/July EDIWTB online book club. The selection is Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. Here is what Politics & Prose has to say about Silver Sparrow (Jones is reading there tonight, but sadly I can't go):

Jones In her third novel, [Tayari Jones] chronicles the two families of a bigamist. James’s daughters are born four months apart and despite his best efforts to prevent it, meet and become friends. While they share a biological father, their material and emotional circumstances are strikingly different, and Jones skillfully contrasts their distinct coming-of-age stories.

Color Online says, "The strength of this story lies in the complexity and ease in which the relationships are drawn. Jones has a beautiful way with words… This is one of my favorite books of 2011."

Thank you to Algonquin for facilitating this online book club. If you'd like to participate, please send an email before Friday, June 3 to gweiswasser@gmail.com with this in the body:

name

address

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email address

I will pick a book club date once the books go out from Algonquin. Many thanks again to Algonquin!