Book of the week: ‘An American Marriage’ is a look into a relationship colliding with the effects of mass incarceration

“An American Marriage” is a look into a relationship colliding with the effects of mass incarceration

Jillian Gallagher, Contributing Writer

A poignant view on society, the novel “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones touches upon a handful of extensive problems that current Americans are facing every day, especially Black Americans. Beautifully written, Jones illustrates love in a painful yet provoking way, leaving readers with a new perspective on racism in America. 

“An American Marriage” tells the story of a young couple, Celestial Davenport and Roy Hamilton, living in Atlanta in 2019. The story takes off one year into the young couple’s marriage where readers are brought along on their charming love story. Suddenly, on the couple’s one-year anniversary, Hamilton is charged with a crime he never committed and becomes an innocent, incarcerated Black man. 

‘An American Marriage’ chronicles the story of a couple’s relationship as one of them is wrongfully incarcerated. (Jillian Gallagher)

Told through love letters, the first half of the book is emotional and arduous at times. What makes this story so important is that readers get to witness both Hamilton’s life while he is in jail and his wife’s life while she is at home. The book bounces between the first-person perspectives of Davenport, Hamilton and Davenport’s best friend Andre Tucker throughout the years of Hamilton’s incarceration.  Managing life without Hamilton while keeping his heartbroken parents company, Davenport struggles to discover herself again. 

While trying to keep her marriage alive, she begins to rely on Tucker more. Friends since youth, Tucker and Davenport have been through it all together; Tucker was the one that introduced Davenport to Hamilton. Although Tucker has loved Davenport since they were young, he always supported her marriage. But now that Hamilton has been in jail for two years, the two friends start to grow closer — too close for Hamilton’s liking.

While Davenport is dealing with her own problems, Hamilton is forced to adapt to prison life just to survive. Hamilton’s story is one that is bigger than himself. Jones successfully educates readers on what life is like for Black men in America through the perspective of Hamilton, an ordinary man wrongfully convicted. Not only does he struggle to hold his marriage together, but he deals with extensive family problems beyond Davenport, all while trying to survive in prison — a place he never should have ended up in the first place.

Jones captivates readers through the unique perspectives of Hamilton and Davenport, along with highlighting the consequences of injustice in present-day America in a way that I will be thinking about for a long time. 

As an avid reader, I was glued to “An American Marriage” like I have been to no other book. Hamilton and Davenport’s story is told in such a way that you feel like part of the story, with a deep connection to the characters. I developed an extreme sense of heartbreak and sympathy for the two along the way. My heart ached for Hamilton as prison became a part of him and how he needed to adapt in order to survive. How can a person’s entire life be taken away from them so quickly, and for no true reason? Through Davenport, I got to see how mass incarceration not only affects those incarcerated but their families as well. Hamilton and Davenport are both such intricate characters in their own way, but their personalities intertwine, creating such a unique relationship — one that readers get to witness firsthand. 

Starting off with terrible twists and unforeseen turns, you will not want to put this book down. From page one all the way through the short epilogue, the unexpected is always around the corner. “An American Marriage” should be on your bookshelf.