An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I liked but didn't love this story of a marriage in the newly crowned Oprah Book Club pick (I had started it the day before it was announced!)
Liked - the setting (Atlanta for the most part) and how the characters are products of the complex class system of Atlanta neighborhoods, ideas of the "people you come from" and what that means or doesn't mean, the realistic portrayal of a marriage and what happens when a major challenge comes along, the look at black incarceration and the question of justice.
How much does a marriage commitment mean? What if you are likely not to even see your spouse for 12 years? What is the expectation of the spouse left behind? It was easy to feel compassion towards all sides.
Less than liked - while I'm usually a fan of letters, I felt the narrative ended up feeling lopsided, resorting to letters and multiple points of view when I'm not sure it needed to. Maybe one but not both. The underlying issues are almost too subtle and mainly come across in conversations, but I mean, one character spends half the book in prison! There are also a few too many overly convenient coincidences.
This is my first book by this author and I would absolutely read another. I can't even think of the last non-dystopian novel I've read that is set in Atlanta. And I agree with Oprah that this makes a good book club novel, because there is a lot to discuss.
Quotes about marriage:
"Marriage is between two people. There is no studio audience."
(hmm, the other one I marked is a spoiler so never mind.)
Quotes about incarceration:
"That's your fate as a black man. Carried by six or judged by twelve."
"You know what they say: if you go five miles outside of Atlanta proper, you end up in Georgia. You know what else they say? What do you call a black man with a PhD? The same thing you call one driving a high-end SUV." (this comes after a discussion about how all black men with expensive cars in the south are treated like drug dealers by the police)
The publisher provided a copy for review through NetGalley, which I appreciate. I also bought it for myself because of the strong reviews, from Book of the Month. Since I read the actual book, I'm quoting from that and not the review copy. Available 6 February 2018.
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