Go Fug Yourself Book Club discussion

An American Marriage
This topic is about An American Marriage
136 views
Past Book Club Discussions > June book discussion! An American Marriage is up

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Bonnie G. (last edited May 31, 2018 08:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1351 comments Mod
Time to open the June book discussion!

An American Marriage was a great fit for me and it got 4 stars (maybe 4.5 if I could do that.) I read a lot about the costs of the criminalization of Blackness in America. The mass-incarceration of Black men is something I have been studying since my days as a criminology major back during the Reagan era, and I have watched these 35 years as this travesty did nothing but grow. But most everything I have read about this subject was nonfiction. I think everyone who wants to understand race in America should read The New Jim Crow, Soul on Ice, Locking Up our Own, and a number of other books on the subject. That said, this book shows the limitations of "just the facts" and illustrates how it is through fiction that understanding can fully flower.

With all the reading I have done on mass-incarceration, I honestly don't think I have read anything about the impact of this epidemic on relationships. Sure, I know that having children without marriage (or at least a legally accountable father) is the leading indicator of lifelong economic need. I know that young Black men are being ripped away from families and being sent to prison for years for actions which would not ever send a young White men into a courtroom. These though are big social-sciency issues. What about people's hearts? What about the damage this does to a man's soul? To a woman's? How does this change their dreams? How do you commit to a family when you know you are likely to not be around to care for them. This matters above and beyond all the big social and economic issues. It is wrapped up in the big issues but it is also its own indignity. Jones took us there and told that story. Ray and Celestial suffered, they grew up at warp speed, they were broken and put back together in different imperfect ways, like Celestial's dolls. That ride was heartbreaking and fascinating, and authentic. Everyone's actions here made sense, but there were other actions that could have made sense too because there are no right ways of being in these circumstances. One of the things I enjoyed most was that I did not know where things were going to end. There was actual suspense, and from one moment to the next I did not even know what resolution to wish for. From the very beginning it was clear there was no way to have a fully satisfying conclusion while staying true to the situation in which the characters found themselves. I loved that!

For Atlantans (I was one for 16 years) there are some fun Easter eggs. We know what it means when people move from Cascade to Decatur (where I lived) or Morningside, and what Celestial's musings about that indicated about the future she envisioned for herself. The comment about Marietta made my day, and not just because it name checked the Big Chicken. It was a fun plus. (One editing note on ATL facts, Buckhead is not a suburb, it is a neighborhood in the City of Atlanta. An affluent neighborhood, but not a suburb)

So that leaves the question of why this was not a 5-star for me. The biggest problem for me was the inclusion of Andre as a POV character. I liked the triangle, and the existence of that character was important, but his point of view added nothing, and I think it took this off track toward romance. This would have been more powerful if it had stuck to perspectives from Ray and Celestial. I also had a little issue with Celestial. I know why Jones wanted her to be a sophisticated well-off young woman. The class issue is central. But Miss Celestial took bougie to a new level. Hand made dolls? Really? For a while in the early 2000's every time I met a trust-fund rich White 20-something she was launching a line of handbags and this had that same ludicrous quality. Even with help from the parents, babydolls don't pay for a Volvo. I also recognize that White women in chick-lit often have these kinds of vanity jobs (everyone is a style reporter or wedding planner, or works for a small publisher, no one is an HR coordinator or an information analyst, or in car sales), but I hate it there too.

Overall a hearty recommendation for a book that is fun to read and also serves as an eloquent commentary on the barriers to success for many and the intimate pressures and pain of institutional inequality.


message 2: by CDB (new) - rated it 4 stars

CDB | 44 comments Love your review and analysis, Bonnie - I agree with so much of what you wrote.

I found myself initially wanting to know more about the crime that Ray was unjustly convicted of and the woman who was raped but then realized that isn't really the point - the point is that it happened, and that it happens far more than it should (especially to black men), and the book is about what happens to families as a result.

I didn't particularly like Ray or Celestial as people, and it seemed like their relationship was heading off the rails no matter what, but the different shape their path took as a result of his incarceration was interesting to me. It's an unusual book - not a typical story, not typical characters - and I think that's one of the things I appreciated about it most. Four stars here too.


Alicia (thebeeka) | 42 comments Love both of your comments/analysis, Bonnie & CDBS. It was a four star read for me as well. Have you read this article on the author and the book? Tayari Jones Is Rewriting The Great American Novel https://www.buzzfeed.com/bimadewunmi/...


message 4: by Pamela (last edited Jun 01, 2018 09:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pamela | 326 comments Good comments

The poupees were so a vanity job! Although I have worked with art museums that focus on african-american art and there is a niche in that world of what many would consider not even folk art- more like a hobby gone wild. But a couple years ago a Faith Ringgold quilt sold for millions and we all went "dang. maybe she's onto something." So there is that part of it that I know exactly who she would be considering her peers and her mentors even in Atlanta but for the majority of women doing that, it's a vanity job. And what about her doing this sort of thing while her husband, who is country, is imprisoned for something he didn't do and how do these two very different black experiences match up?
also was trying to figure out the deeper reason for why Celestial was making them and why there was the imperfection thing. She was doing them long before the abortion.


message 5: by Bonnie G. (last edited Jun 02, 2018 12:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1351 comments Mod
Pamela wrote: "Good comments

The poupees were so a vanity job! Although I have worked with art museums that focus on african-american art and there is a niche in that world of what many would unot even f..."


I love that characterization of "hobby gone wild." I saw a lot of that in Atlanta. Its odd as all get out.

Alicia, thanks for the link to the Buzzfeed article. It is excellent. I was glad she discussed her reasons for including the Andre POV. I stand by my opinion that the book would have been better without it, but I understand her reasoning. I also liked the tie to the Odyssey. I hadn't made that connection, and it is an interesting analogy. I really appreciated this book for telling a very American story that I have not seen before, and the discussion of that, and of the title was fascinating.


Pamela | 326 comments I liked her reasoning for including Andre and think she was right. That article was really interesting- has anyone read any of her other books?


message 7: by Bonnie G. (last edited Jun 04, 2018 02:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1351 comments Mod
I have read all her books. I liked this the best by far, but was a fan of all. I read all the others when I lived in Atlanta, and all are very much about that place. I suspect I liked the books more because of that.


Pamela | 326 comments I know those books! Where you love because of the place but other people don't get.

This book has inspired some madness at my workplace. I needed an example for something to put in a space and "tooth" popped in my head because I had just read the battle over the tooth. Now everyone is joking that if we can't put a set of dentures in the space, they will be disappointed.


Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1351 comments Mod
Pamela wrote: "I know those books! Where you love because of the place but other people don't get.

This book has inspired some madness at my workplace. I needed an example for something to put in a space and "to..."


Your workplace is way more fun than mine!

I have books and movies that take me to special places. They filmed the scene in Moonstruck where Cher is walking down the street after her night with Nic Cage on the block the guy I was dating lived on (so inconvenient at the time) and I cannot see that scene without being brought to some very happy student days. I will love it forever.


message 10: by Kris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kris | 254 comments Mod
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a new viewpoint - a new genre - a world that I have never entered before. I found myself rooting for each of the characters, and yet, ultimately knowing that they could never go back - that there was no way for them to resume a marriage. They just weren't the same people that they had been 5 years before.

The poupees were interesting, and I loved how she acknowledged that they looked variably like Roy and Andre and herself. And I also loved that she made some of them "imperfect." To me, that was a beautiful touch of humanity.

I'm really happy to have read this book. It broadened me, and I always appreciate that in a book.


message 11: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (xj2608) I loved the Buzzfeed interview, because I'm with her - my thought was - why did Celestial owe Roy any loyalty when he was running around like a dog and lying to her? She put in a few good years - more than they were married. She didn't owe him any more than that. If he wasn't going to honor their vows, why should she? But there really aren't shades of grey for me on fidelity issues, and I know that not everyone shares my views. I considered it might be a cultural thing, because some of my friends have told me the hazards of being an educated black woman who is dating. But I feel vindicated, after reading the interview!

I was happier with the ending to this story than I have been with most books that I read. It wasn't a happy-ever-after, but a logical-believable-content-ever-after.


Pamela | 326 comments Maybe she didn't own him that loyalty but she owed him more respect to tell him. Just thinking you can ignore it is not fair to either of them. And then sending your boyfriend to go meet him?? Bad.

I think the ending is the best that could have happened given the circumstances. It did greatly upset me that they said "oops, wrongly convicted" and just let Roy back into the world, no reparations, not even given dignity in his release.


message 13: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (xj2608) But she did tell him, didn't she? She told him it was over, but he read too much into the fact that she didn't file for divorce. Sending Andre was bad, but falls in line with the protective male philosophy. Celestial came across to me as someone who avoided certain forms of conflict (no follow-through on the cheating suppositions, no follow-through on the divorce, no follow-through on telling Roy about her relationship with Andre). I can identify with that - sometimes people are aware of how you feel but forge ahead with their own plan anyway, and it seems easier to just let it fall apart.

And...having read the Innocence Project blog a lot means that I can say that "oops, wrongly convicted - bye, now, and good luck" is standard in a lot of states. Louisiana now offers $25K/year served, but you have to sue for it. In the past, however, well...here's a quote from the Innocence Project blog:

"While facing his seventh execution date, a private investigator hired by his appellate attorneys discovered scientific evidence of Thompson’s innocence that had been concealed for 15 years by the New Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. When he released and exonerated in 2003, the state of Louisiana gave him $10 and a bus ticket."

https://www.innocenceproject.org/is-l...


message 14: by Kris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kris | 254 comments Mod
Amy wrote: "While facing his seventh execution date, a private investigator hired by his appellate attorneys discovered scientific evidence of Thompson’s innocence that had been concealed for 15 years by the New Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. When he released and exonerated in 2003, the state of Louisiana gave him $10 and a bus ticket."

It's that kind of bullshit that makes me sooooooo mad. And it doesn't even affect me, but GOD! I mean, really? "Sorry, bye!" Hell, basically not even a sorry.


message 15: by Bonnie G. (last edited Jun 13, 2018 04:15PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1351 comments Mod
Kris wrote: "Amy wrote: "While facing his seventh execution date, a private investigator hired by his appellate attorneys discovered scientific evidence of Thompson’s innocence that had been concealed for 15 ye..."

Definitely not a "sorry." Unless there is evidence of wrongdoing (the prosecution hiding evidence, etc.) than its just like it is in the book. And it happens a lot.

We hear about the people who serve time for 30 years before being exonerated, but what about the thousands who serve a couple weeks or a month, who are too poor to bond out, and who lose their jobs and their tenuous hold on food and shelter? It really is one of our great shames.


Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1351 comments Mod
Amy wrote: "But she did tell him, didn't she? She told him it was over, but he read too much into the fact that she didn't file for divorce. Sending Andre was bad, but falls in line with the protective male ph..."

Those are really interesting observations about Celestial. I had not really thought about it, but she was a woman who was used to having things taken care of for her, and showed no interest in changing that. Thanks for pointing that out.

Also, the Innocence Project blog will rip your heart out. Those people do God's (or your power of choice's) work. My work as a lawyer was never particularly noble (and sometimes the opposite) and it was the work of the Innocence Project, Federal Defenders Capital Defense, Lambda Legal, ACLU and others that made me proud to be a member of the bar.


Pamela | 326 comments Kris wrote: It's that kind of bullshit that makes me sooooooo mad. And it doesn't even affect me, but GOD! I mean, really? "Sorry, bye!" Hell, basically not even a sorry.
."


that's the right word for it. I'm a believer in truth and justice- people who do wrong deserve it. But part of that is you have to know they did wrong and be accountable. I'm sorry, but sorry doesn't begin to cover it! Look at everything that was lost in this book by sloppy police work. And what about the death row people who are found to be innocent? You can't say sorry when someone is dead. Or even when they've been locked away for 30-40-50 years. Look how Roy's years in prison affected him= and he shared his cell with his father who protected him.
If I had the power to have one invention, it would be something where you could figure out the truth in a second so innocent people wouldn't be subject to such things.


message 18: by Sara (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sara | 106 comments I had a library book backlog and was on a long waiting list for this one, so I'm coming in a month late to the discussion. Your words are still here to read! :-D

The realism of this book was the most striking part of it for me, and having multiple perspectives was necessary to emphasize that. I don't think we could have understood the truth of events without all three characters' points of view. Still, it did slow things down, and at the halfway mark, I was starting to think my review would say the book needed to be a lot shorter. I didn't end up feeling that way.

I could not deal with Roy, for many of the same reasons Amy called out. Celestial and Andre aren't perfect, but Roy was a possessive, insecure problem before he was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. I don't think the marriage would have lasted another year.


Hayley Mac | 24 comments A year late... but I didn’t particularly enjoy this book! I think it boils down to disliking the characters and a bit of absence of plot. Also I don’t know if because I’m British some of the americanisms fly over my head. I found the poupee dolls just really weird. I was really disappointed as it won the Women’s Prize for Fiction here (beating Circe, Ordinary People, My Sister the serial killer and others) but it just wasn’t for me.


Hayley Mac | 24 comments Oh I should have said - it was really beautifully written and the prose flowed so well.
After reading the buzzfeed article above..
I wonder if, because she’s an academic writer, her books are too clever for me (the Odysseus parallels, the big ideas) and not fun/plotty enough. Hmm.


Bonnie G. (narshkite) | 1351 comments Mod
Hayley wrote: "Oh I should have said - it was really beautifully written and the prose flowed so well.
After reading the buzzfeed article above..
I wonder if, because she’s an academic writer, her books are too c..."


It definitely wasn't a fun book, No question, and not plot driven. It is really about the limitations on Black men, the hard barriers of class, and how that impacts love and commitment.


back to top