Chair of the Judges,Professor Kate Williams, said: “It’s a fantastic shortlist; exciting, vibrant, adventurous. We fell totally in love with these books and the amazing worlds they created. These books are fiction at its best – brilliant, courageous and utterly captivating.”
Jones writes with searing emotional lucidity about the unseen consequences of wrongful convictions, the fragility of the cords tethering one person to another and what it means to be in the lap of both fate and the state. The book is mostly arranged in chapters that present the story from alternating points of view, triangulating events through the perspectives of Celestial, Roy and Andre. Roy begins the narrative in a breezy, confidential tone, peppering his account with pop culture references. But the warm introduction has a premonitory air (‘We were properly married for a year and a half, and we were happy for that time, at least I was’) and its painful ironies only become detectable in retrospect. As the narrative develops, with her attentive psychological probing Jones resists moral absolutes and the impulse to side with any particular character. What emerges is a devastating but tender vision.
It’s the complex individuality of all the novel’s characters that allows it to become much more than its simple storyline suggests. Narrated in turns by Roy and Celestial, with a third strand from their closest friend, Andre, it brings to life two distinct worlds: that of Roy’s childhood, in which his mother, Olive, and adoptive father, Big Roy, concentrate their efforts on making ends meet and protecting and promoting their only child, and that of Celestial’s, at ease with discussing history and politics and ideas, of mulling over questions of identity and destiny. And yet, isolated by a criminal justice system obsessed with incarceration, these two groups of people must, and do, unify against a common enemy...It’s to be hoped that her recent success makes it more likely that British readers will find them, too, alongside this thoroughly engrossing and impressive novel.
It would be a crime to give away anything more, but the end of this beautiful novel made me cry. Jones writes with intelligence and a lively wit, but there’s more — a warmth that forces you to care about these people as if you had met them.
African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white Americans, and the negative impact of a criminal record is much greater for African American job applicants. How do black Americans navigate such a grossly unfair system, and maintain their dignity? Tayari Jones deals with these issues wisely and sensitively in An American Marriage, shortlisted for this year’s Women’s prize for fiction... This is a marvellous feat of storytelling, told with the type of light touch that can only be achieved through hard work. Any reader will warm to the characters’ southern lilt, with its gentle formality, a courtliness that has all but vanished from any other English-speaking part of the world.
Memory, how much you should cling to it and when to let it go, is just one of the themes running through Tayari Jones’ clear-eyed and deeply moving fourth novel, which has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
At its heart is a love triangle between Roy, Celestial and Celestial’s best friend Andre, who grew up next door to her but has never quite managed to win her heart. That his chance finally comes at the expense of another man’s suffering lies at the novel’s core... Yet this is not a novel without hope. For Jones understands that there are all kinds of love, all types of relationship, and is careful in the ways in which she allows her protagonists to work though their situation. The result is a wise, smart and, above all, compassionate novel in which all three voices are given their chance to shine.
...while perusing just one letter between two people provides hints into their relationship, digging into a whole trove of letters sent over the course of several years can reveal intricacies that face-to-face interaction with the authors never would.
It is this sort of intimacy that Tayari Jones so searchingly explores in her new novel, An American Marriage, which follows the wrongful imprisonment of a young black man named Roy, and its impact on him and on his new wife Celestial. Jones shifts from the first-person narration provided by these two protagonists to letters they send each other while Roy is in prison. She then returns to their firsthand accounts, adding in a third narrator—Andre, a childhood friend of Celestial’s and a college friend of Roy’s. The variation in these perspectives serves an important purpose: It offers up myriad means of understanding the novel’s complicated central relationship, and lets every character speak for themselves, giving each an opportunity to capture the reader’s allegiance.
While Jones keeps her gaze on the personal, this intimate story of a relationship cannot be divorced from its racial context. The black body in America can’t escape the scrutiny of the political lens, not entirely. The characters feel lucky that Roy is still alive — as Celestial says, there is “no appealing a cop’s bullet.” While not a polemic, the novel gives us a quiet, revolutionary statement about black innocence, which Celestial defines as “having no way to predict the pain of the future.”