Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Writers Of Color - —MYA ALEXICE —HAN­NAH HOHMAN

Ta­yari Jones, Al­go­nquin (FE­BRU­ARY) Hard­cover $26.95 (320pp), 978-1-61620-134-0

Ta­yari Jones dis­plays tre­men­dous writ­ing prow­ess with An Amer­i­can Mar­riage, an en­chant­ing novel that suc­ceeds at ev­ery level.

The story fo­cuses on a mar­riage that is slowly and cru­elly torn apart. Af­ter only a year of mar­riage, Roy and Ce­les­tial find them­selves faced with an ob­sta­cle that seems in­sur­mount­able: Roy is sen­tenced to twelve years in prison for some­thing he didn’t do.

From the very start, An Amer­i­can Mar­riage pulls the reader in with gor­geous prose. First-per­son point of view, cou­pled with au­then­tic di­a­logue and in­ter­nal speech, makes ev­ery char­ac­ter in the novel seem com­pletely real. Roy and Ce­les­tial are at times so con­vinc­ing that the novel reads as true as a mem­oir.

Con­jur­ing raw, in­tense emo­tion with each chap­ter, Roy and Ce­les­tial’s strained mar­riage is shown to be pushed far­ther and far­ther to its lim­its. Re­sul­tant heart­break and trauma is il­lus­trated through the poignant, pow­er­ful metaphors that are at the cen­ter of the novel’s par­tic­u­lar craft. Lines like “Some­thing shad­owy and fe­male hap­pened be­tween them, as mys­te­ri­ous and pri­mal as witches’ brew” cap­ti­vate.

Even be­yond its plot, the story soars. It doesn’t just fo­cus on one in­stance of a mar­riage; it ex­plores philo­soph­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal quan­daries, in­clud­ing gen­er­a­tional ex­pec­ta­tions of men and women, the place of mar­riage in mod­ern society, sys­temic racism, toxic mas­culin­ity, and more. It does so in a gen­tle, sub­tle way, avoid­ing di­dac­ti­cism as it nudges the reader to ques­tion their own con­ven­tions and ideals.

There are rarely nov­els as timely or fit­ting as An Amer­i­can Mar­riage. It brings ab­stract ideas about race and love down to the ma­te­rial level. The story is grip­ping, and the char­ac­ters are un­for­get­table.

ar­rives in a sat­u­rated swirl of in­ner mono­logue and de­voted ob­ser­vances.

The novel’s un­named nar­ra­tor grew up in Elmira, a town with dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics and a peo­ple whose speci­ficity seems to have been cul­ti­vated by their lim­i­ta­tions. She suf­fers through se­vere writer’s block and set­tles in for a long con, dis­card­ing her old life to plan a mur­der.

Her planned vic­tim, Mccabe, com­mit­ted the crime of los­ing Bebe, a healthily sex­ual woman with a gor­geous body whom the nar­ra­tor once pined af­ter. En­ticed by Mccabe’s sta­bil­ity and riches, Bebe was con­vinced of the re­la­tion­ship’s po­ten­tial—it was noth­ing that the nar­ra­tor could of­fer her. Mccabe’s in­abil­ity to hold Bebe proves too much for the nar­ra­tor to bear. She must die.

The nar­ra­tor less plans the crime than she does study Mccabe, though, won­der­ing about the emo­tional an­gles of car­ry­ing out the mur­der. She is fas­ci­nated by Mccabe, and by her body in par­tic­u­lar. She is re­pulsed; she is drawn in. Mccabe be­comes like the sun to her: she cannot look di­rectly at her, but stud­ies ev­ery inch that she can ob­serve, one by one.

In be­tween ob­ses­sions, the nar­ra­tor re­lives her small town past––rem­i­nisc­ing peo­ple she once knew, and con­sid­er­ing her role in society and the roles of her par­ents, who worked as ser­vants to some­one known sim­ply as “the Judge.”

Much of Heart­land comes through the nar­ra­tor’s per­spec­tive, with bits of di­a­logue sprin­kled through­out. She has an un­re­li­able air, es­pe­cially as her early mono­logues re­count drink­ing and se­vere de­pres­sion. Her mind deals in chaos and the im­pos­si­ble. In a novel with a hint of mag­i­cal re­al­ism, whether the elab­o­rate and un­be­liev­able de­tails she re­lates are true is any­body’s guess.

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