Book Review

An American Marriage

An American Marriage is a novel about not only the difficulties of a new marriage but also the pernicious effects of the American justice system. Author Tayari Jones notes that the foundation of this novel was a childhood in which “men are under siege,” specifically black men who are subject to a justice system that “criminalizes black men and destroys families.”

Throughout An American Marriage Jones asks readers to grapple with questions between right and wrong. Is it right for a man to be sentenced to twelve years in prison for a crime he did not commit? Is it right for a new wife to leave her wrongfully imprisoned husband after years of not speaking to him? Is it right to even make a value judgement on the characters given what they’ve been subjected to? Is it right that in America today one’s life can be turned upside down by a racist judge?

In grappling with these questions, Jones shows how systemic racism can so easily wreck lives and relationships.

Selected Quotes

“Six or twelve,” he sometimes said when he was depressed, which wasn’t all the time but often enough that I recognized a blue mood when it was settling in. “That’s your fate as a black man. Carried by six or judged by twelve.” 1

She had made her choice. I could see it in the determined square of her shoulder as she washed my plate and cup. She had chosen what it was going to be and that was that. Just like a jury in a prefab courtroom had decided that I was a rapist and that was that. Just like a judge in another shabby courtroom decided I was going to prison and that was that. Then a compassionate judge in DC agreed that the prosecutor set me up, so I got free and that, too, was that. For the last five years, people have been telling me what my life is going to be. But what could I do about it? Tell the judge that I’m not going to jail? Tell the DA that I decided to stay? What could I tell Celestial? Could I demand that she love me again? 1

Roy spent the last five years in prison while I’d been writing computer code. 1

But someone was going to pay for what happened to Roy, just as Roy paid for what happened to that woman. Someone always pays. Bullet don’t have nobody’s name on it, that’s what people say. I think the same is true for vengeance. Maybe even for love. It’s out there, random and deadly, like a tornado. 1

  1. Jones, Tayari. An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel (Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection) Algonquin Books. Kindle Edition.