An American Marriage

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An American Marriage is a novel by American author Tayari Jones. It was Jones's fourth novel and was published in 2018 by Algonquin Books. In February 2018 it was chosen for Oprah's Book Club 2.0.[1]The novel also won the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction.[2]

The novel focuses on the marriage of a middle-class African-American couple, Roy and Celestial, who live in Atlanta and whose lives are torn apart when Roy is wrongfully convicted of a rape he did not commit.

In an interview with The Paris Review Jones revealed that she initially wrote the book solely from Celestial's point of view and decided to add multiple points of view after her initial readers reacted negatively to Celestial.[3]


Roy, a sales rep for a textbook company, and Celestial, an artist specializing in custom made baby dolls, are newlyweds who live in Atlanta. After their first year of marriage they travel to Eloe, Louisiana to visit Roy's parents. They spend the night at the local Motel 6 where they feud after Roy tells Celestial that his father is not his biological father. In the middle of their fight they take 15 minutes to cool off during which Roy exits their room and meets a woman around his mother's age with a broken arm whom he helps to her room. Later that night the woman is raped and she calls the police, believing that Roy was the one who raped her. While Roy is in jail awaiting trial Celestial discovers she is pregnant and the two decide that she should have an abortion. When the case goes to trial Roy is given a sentence of 12 years.

For the first few years Roy and Celestial keep an active correspondence, though Roy grows frustrated as Celestial's career as an artist begins to take off and the gaps between their letters and visits grows longer. During this period Roy discovers that his cellmate Walter, is actually his biological father and shares the news with Celestial. Olive, Roy's mother, also dies. After three years Celestial tells Roy that she no longer wishes to be his wife, causing a rift between them. Roy refuses communication with Celestial for the following two years, however when his case is finally overturned on appeal and the local DA decides not to pursue the case he optimistically reaches out to Celestial believing that there is still hope for their marriage as she has never divorced him.

Celestial has, in the mean time, fallen in love with her childhood best friend, Andre. The night she learns that Roy is about to be set free, Andre proposes. Despite her guilt, Celestial decides to divorce Roy and marry Dre and though the rest of her family accept her choice, the news causes a rift between Celestial and her father.

Roy is released from prison early and is collected by his father, Roy Sr. Aware that Celestial plans to have Andre pick him up, Roy decides to leave for Atlanta just as Andre is leaving to collect him, ensuring that he will have time to spend alone with Celestial. Before he leaves, Roy runs into a former classmate of his, Davina who invites him over for dinner. The two end up having sex which Roy feels is meaningful. He nevertheless decides to leave for Atlanta.

In Atlanta Roy is relieved to find that his key still works and surprises Celestial by being at home when she comes back from her doll shop. Roy tries to have sex with her but she asks him to use protection, knowing that he does not have any. The following day Andre arrives and in the ensuing argument about what happened when Roy was in jail Roy begins beating Andre on Celestial's lawn. Though the police are called Celestial manages to smooth things over. She returns with Roy to her house and the following morning tells Andre that she needs to be with Roy. That night however, when Roy confesses to having sex with Davina, Celestial has no reaction causing Roy to realize that Celestial truly no longer loves him romantically. Though she is willing to have sex with him he declines saying he has never been and will never be a rapist.

In an epilogue Roy and Celestial exchange letters with Celestial informing Roy that though she and Andre are having a baby they have no plans to marry and Roy informing Celestial that he plans to marry Davina.


The novel was widely praised upon its release. The New York Times praised it as a "wise and compassionate" novel.[4] The Globe and Mail called the novel "sensational".[5] The Washington Post praised Jones for her "daring creative choices" and "tender patience".[6].



  1. ^ Winfrey, Oprah. "Oprah's New Book Club: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones". Retrieved February 8, 2019.
  2. ^ Flood, Alison (June 5, 2019), "Women's prize for fiction goes to 'utterly moving' Tayari Jones novel", The Guardian.
  3. ^ Bereola, Abigail. "If I Can't Cry, Nobody Cries: An Interview with Tayari Jones". Retrieved February 8, 2019.
  4. ^ Watts, Stephanie Powell. "A Marriage Upended, a Life Destroyed". Retrieved February 8, 2019.
  5. ^ Donahue, Anna T. "Review: Tayari Jones's An American Marriage is another sensational Oprah pick". Retrieved February 8, 2019.
  6. ^ Charles, Ron. "Oprah's newest book club pick: 'An American Marriage,' by Tayari Jones". Retrieved February 8, 2019.
  7. ^ "Announcing the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction Winner". Women’s Prize for Fiction. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  8. ^ Dwyer, Colin. "Tayari Jones Takes Home Aspen Words Literary Prize For 'An American Marriage'". Retrieved 13 September 2019.