Sunday, September 30, 2018

Literary Wives #35

An American Marriage 

I selected the "Georgia" font for this review since Roy's pet name for Celestial was "Georgia"!
This book was an Oprah Book Club selection for 2018 and 
I can imagine this translating well to the big screen.
Here is the NPR interview with Karen Grigsby Bates and Tayari Jones.
There are also many reviews out there to read...

What was my opinion of this book? 
Well...Tayari Jones is now on my 
Goodreads "absolute favorite authors" shelf! 
Wow. This woman can write. 
I read this book basically in one day. 
But don't let that fool you! 
It read quickly, but was enthralling 
and the complexity of the characters and their 
intertwined lives were revealed in a straightforward 
easily understood manner. 
There are not many authors capable of writing this way, 
in my opinion.
I own a copy of Silver Sparrow and am anxious 
to read it now.
I venture to say I would never hesitate 
to read a book written by Tayari Jones. 
In reading about some of her upcoming events, 
I see she will be in Nashville, Tennessee on October 14th "in conversation with Celeste Ng" who wrote Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You
I read and adored the latter but have yet to read her newest release, Little Fires Everywhere.
in Nashville, Tennessee. It is the 30th year for this annual event.
If only I had the time and money... It is notable this event is free!
Ah...but I digress...

The first of the three main characters we encounter is Roy. It is Roy who endures the most horrific of life events: unfairly arrested, charged with a crime, convicted, and incarcerated. Oh, if only that never occurred in our society! It is one of the injustices that always makes my heart stop and my eyes tear up. I never ever will forget reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Bryan is the founder of Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. This man is an absolute hero. Truly. A. Hero. No question. Again, I end up asking myself how humans can be so inhumane to other humans. I do not understand. Nor do I subscribe. But back to Roy...

I realized the irony of reading this particular book during the Kavanaugh/Ford controversy playing out in our nation's capitol. Though Roy's accuser believed her attacker was him and the room was completely dark, etc., so she was unable to truly see the man to recognize him or not. Whereas Ford knew her attacker and his accomplice very well. 'Nuff said. 

I loved Roy's admission of the help he received to get where he was as an adult:
All my life I have been helped by leg-up programs--Head Start when I was five and Upward Bound all the way through. If I ever have kids, they will be able to pedal through life 
without training wheels, but I like to give credit where it is due. (4)
Ah, that phrase "pedal through life without training wheels," isn't that a beautifully apt  analogy? I immediately thought of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. Whereas Vance mentions the various social programs by which he advanced himself out of the poor Appalachian culture to which he was born, he fails to give them their "due" or note appreciation for them, rather crediting only himself. (At least that was my interpretation of his story.) And at the end of his book he berates such helpful programs, but offers absolutely no alternatives... In my head I was saying, "He makes an excellent representative of the current Republican party--all negativity and criticism, but no thought of alternatives." That accomplishes exactly zero. No improvement. I appreciated Roy's character citing his appreciation and giving credit to the social programs that helped him. Of course, I credit Jones for her insight...

Atlanta is where I learned the rules and learned them quick. No one ever called me stupid.
But home isn't where you land, home is where you launch
You can't pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. 
Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land....
I'm not talking bad about Eloe... For one, Eloe may be in Louisiana, not a state brimming with opportunity, but it is located in America, and if you're going to be black and struggling, 
the United States is probably the best place to do it. (4)
Upon reading this passage, I sighed to myself and thought, that's probably correct, even given today's current social and cultural regress that seems to have occurred. Though I feel for black males--this is not a fair world for them. Or for any non-white, especially males. Just look at the prison population. The amount of non-white folks jailed for drug violations. Yet drug usage among white folks is estimated to be a much higher percentage than that for non-white minorities. Something just doesn't add up. 

I loved Roy's story about a date who pulled a gun on him in the middle of an Urban League Gala! She "flashed it inside her purse under the table" and stated that she knew Roy was cheating on her with "some chick from the Black Bar Association." I had to shake my head and laugh at that one. "Little Roy" continues to tell his Daddy, Big Roy, about how he had "lost his touch with the ladies for a minute" after that. No kidding! Ya think?!? ;) Big Roy's response?
"You don't want no woman that brandished a firearm, son."
I tried to explain that what made it remarkable was the contrast between the streetness of the pistol and the glitter of the evening. Besides: "She was playing, Daddy." 
Big Roy nodded and sucked the foam from his glass of beer. 
"If that's how she plays, what's going to happen when she gets mad?" (6)
Yep! Dad's definitely got a valid point there! :) 

I especially appreciated Jones' notation that 
White people say, "It beats digging a ditch"; black people say, "It beats picking cotton." (8)
There is a distinct difference... In thinking of raising children, Roy states
I'm not going to remind my kids that somebody died in order for me to do everyday things. (8)
Then Celestial promises
...she will never say that they have to be twice as good to get half as much. "Even if it's true"... (8)
I think I tried to convince my children of this last bit just simply because we were so poor when they were young. Though as with most, I don't believe they realized it until they got to school... They spent their youth fairly isolated in the country, which helped. 

Roy describes Celestial:
She was the perfect balance in a woman, not a button-down corporate type, 
but she wore her pedigree like the gloss on a patent-leather shoe. 
In addition, she popped like an artist, without veering into crazy. 
In other words, there was no pink pistol in her purse, but there was no shortage of passion either.     Celestial liked to go her own way and you could tell that from looking at her...
Even before you knew she was a genius with needle and thread, 
you could tell you were dealing with a unique individual. (8)
Roy works so that Celestial can stay home and build her business making dolls. Yep! She eventually makes a living making dolls! As they discuss this with Roy's mother and Daddy, Olive (Roy's mother) cannot believe people would pay $5,000 for a doll. "I guess that's why God invented white folks." I had to laugh at that! 

At one point, Roy realizes he has 'misspoken'. :)
If you have a woman, you recognize when you have said the wrong thing. 
Somehow she arranges the ions in the air and you can't breathe as well. (16)
That prompted another laugh from me! 

We are here to answer the Literary Wives question:

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

Please make sure you read 
the other hosting bloggers' reviews:

Naomi of Consumed by Ink

I thought this book had much to say about 
"being a wife"!

Little Roy is sentenced to 12 years for rape. He is totally innocent and was with Celestial. But he ends up serving 5 years until Celestial's uncle finally convinces a federal court to reverse his conviction and release him from prison. However, after three years, Celestial stops writing and visiting Roy. This coincides with Olive's death. Little Roy's mother died from cancer when he had been incarcerated for three years. Big Roy remains at the cemetery and personally shovels all the dirt into the hole himself, covering his wife's casket.
Celestial sighed. You'll never see anything like that again, no matter how long you live."...
"Roy has been away so long." she whispered. "I've done everything I'm supposed to do. 
I haven't thought about any other man, let alone touched one. 
But when I look at Mr. Roy out there, at his wife's grave, I feel like I've been playing at marriage.
    That I don't know what it is to be committed." (153)

She is tired and wants to live her life. She and Andre/"Dre" have been best friends since they were 3 months old bathing in the sink together, and have been next-door neighbors throughout their lives. They end up as a couple during those last two years of Roy's incarceration and Dre buys her a ring and asks her to marry him. But Celestial no longer believes in the whole idea of marriage, stating that 
"Till death do us part" is unreasonable, a recipe for failure.
I asked her, "So what do you believe in?"
She said, "I believe in communion."
As for me, I'm modern and traditional at the same time. I, too, believe in intimacy--who doesn't? 
But I also believe in commitment. (105)
But as much as I could understand Roy's opinion that Celestial should remain faithful and wait for him, she eventually cannot hold out any longer and needs to live her life. And, it's not as if Roy had been absolutely faithful during their brief 18 months together as husband and wife. Celestial discovered a note with a woman's name and number written on it, as well as a receipt for two pieces of lingerie when Roy had gifted her only one of those. But I believe Roy felt that was no big deal. He admits to having been a real ladies' man while single. As I have mentioned before I will never understand why a man refuses to keep his pants zipped and remain faithful. Sheesh!  I did feel Dre was being a bit hypocritical in that he was screwing his best friend's wife but insisting upon "commitment" from her in their own relationship. What?!? Yep! Some irony there, huh?

And although Celestial's parents appeared to be totally devoted to each other, her father had  his own questionable beginning with Gloria. He was married at the time he started a relationship with her. He didn't reveal that to her until they had been dating for a month! She was his mistress for three years! It took him a long time to win her over before she would agree to marry him, but once they were married they were seemingly committed to each other.

So being a wife is what each female makes of it. Though Celestial and Roy seemed to fight quite often, at least in my opinion, she was trying to be a committed and sincere partner to her husband, though she did call him on his missteps. By refusing to marry Dre she was refusing to feel that sense of commitment again. It was overwhelming to her, and unattainable given the extreme situation in which she had found herself while married to Roy. I could understand that. Roy's parents appeared to be totally devoted to each other as well as totally devoted and committed to Roy as their son. And though Celestial's mother and father perhaps had a rather questionable start to their relationship with her being the mistress for the first three years until he was once again single, they had remained together for many years. I believe Jones was realistic in revealing that each individual makes of their marriage/parental role in life what works for them. It isn't the same for any two people. Being a wife, being a husband, being a father, being a mother--each individual serves in these roles differently. 

Perhaps more than the idea of being a "wife," I found both Little Roy and Dre's relationship with their Daddy to be fascinating. Dre's mother and father had divorced when he was a young child and his Daddy ended up marrying someone else and starting another family, fathering two children with his second wife. And he stayed around and raised those children, whereas he had abandoned Dre. His Daddy did at least pay for Dre to attend college, though he had not paid child support through the years. Dre ended up going to his father as a young adult and establishing some semblance of a relationship. 
I don't believe that blood makes a family, kin is the circle you create, hands held tight. 
There is something to shared genetics, but the question is, what exactly is that something? 
It matters that I didn't grow up with my father. It's kind of like having one leg that's a half inch shorter than the other. You can walk, but there will be a dip. (193)
I teared up at this passage. Having never even met my biological father and never having had a step-father, I can so relate. I have ALWAYS felt "incomplete." And my life has felt "incomplete" in many ways. I sometimes wonder if my rather extreme independent attitude  as a female is hard-wired in me or if it developed as a result of needing to fill that lack...of something missing in my life. Just a thought...

Little Roy discovers that Big Roy is not his biological father after all. His mother had legally changed Roy's name, though she retained his biological father's name as his middle name: Roy Onithal. (Onithal...what a name, eh?) Big Roy did everything in his power to be a real father to Little Roy. And Little Roy realizes that his true father is Big Roy; the one who cared for him in every way possible, even giving him his name. But of all the ironies, once he is incarcerated he eventually discovers that his cell mate is actually his biological father who paid a high price for him to be transferred to his cell so he could help Roy endure imprisonment. His biological father has abandoned more women than just his own mother once they became pregnant. Interestingly, Celestial is pregnant, from the last time she and Roy were together the night of his arrest, and he realizes that in his own way he abandoned his own child before s/he was born by indicating he didn't care what Celestial did and agreeing with her idea to abort the baby. (We learn this was not the first time Celestial underwent an abortion. Though her first pregnancy was under quite different circumstances--with a married man as the father.) 

As I composed this review I realized that each and every character was much more flawed than I had realized while reading the book. Tayari Jones stated that her goal was for people to not be able to feel they could relate more to any one character than another. I did feel that way at the end. I could relate to each character to a certain degree, but not any one more than the others. 

 If you've read this book, what was your reaction?

Join us on December 3rd as we review The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve.

Happy reading!


  1. I guess everyone liked this one better than I did. I thought the characters' behavior wasn't convincing, and I really didn't like Roy, even though I felt sorry for him. It's interesting what Jones said about not wanting people to relate more to one character than another, because I didn't relate to any of them, possibly because I didn't think we really got to know Celestial or Andre.

    1. Oh, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy this one, Kay! I thought Jones did a good job of depicting the characters through words, thoughts, and actions, but not everyone gets the same "feels" from any one book, do we? That is the beauty of reading...we all interpret in our own ways. I can see where you might feel you didn't get to know Celestial or Andre well enough. Here's hoping the next book proves to be more enjoyable for you! :) BTW, I wanted to tell you that I'm happy to see your involvement with the Classics Club. I particularly enjoyed your last post about Yonge, whom I had never heard of either. Of course, you managed to increase my TBR listing yet again! :)

  2. Tayari Jones AND Celeste Ng?! That's an event I wouldn't want to miss. I LOVED Little Fires Everywhere. And I completely agree with you about Tayari Jones now being an author I wouldn't hesitate to read.
    I wondered the whole time if the bigger issue in their marriage wasn't Roy's imprisonment but how differently they grew up. Their reactions to the imprisonment seemed to have been formed via their previous life experience.

    1. That's a very good point. I do think that the separation caused Celestial to rethink her life, particularly as she witnessed the extreme commitment Big Roy had toward Olive, even upon the woman's death. That is when she basically cut ties with Little Roy and didn't visit or write any more during those last two years. I felt that for her, the concept marriage was too overwhelming, she felt it demanded too much of her, hence her reticence to even marry Dre, whom I felt was definitely her soulmate. I thought Jones' depiction was so very realistic...much as we may have hoped for a "happily ever after" ending for Roy and Celestial, it wasn't meant to be...

  3. I love all your enthusiasm for this story and the author! I think you will enjoy The Silver Sparrow a lot too, even though it probably won't feel as topical politically (the emphasis is much more clearly on the family the whole time).

    1. My enthusiasm was all due to Jones' writing which I found to be amazing! Ooohhh...I love emphasis on family! Even more incentive to dig that one out and read it! Thanks much for stopping by!

  4. That's so interesting what the author said about relating equally to the characters. I think I did.
    I also liked the story about Big Roy and Little Roy and how it all came about.
    I do believe that Celestial and Roy's marriage was doomed anyway - it was just a matter of time. But it was so much more interesting (and painful) for the author to have Roy incarcerated.

    1. That's so funny, 'cause I really felt Celestial and Little Roy made such a good "team"! She was the artist and he was the promoter. I really didn't see their relationship as doomed, but I guess as Eva pointed out, they did have very different lives and that can create challenges for staying together. I love how Jones concentrated on the aftermath of Roy's incarceration. I think that is often overlooked--the challenges to re-entering society. When he states he can understand why "ex-cons" commit the silliest and most blatant crimes to re-enter prison, it made me so sad. I hate the idea that some feel more comfortable without freedom...

  5. There's going to be a movie?!?! How cool! I can't wait. I agree that it would translate well. And I'm glad to hear you liked this one as much as I did! I love your connection to Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. That is definitely a book that could describe Roy.

    1. Yes! According to Oprah! It is not often that I am truly excited about a movie based upon a novel, but I feel this one will be timely and well-done. I suppose mainly due to my faith in Oprah. :) Vance and Little Roy had some similarities during their childhoods, though Roy had definite advantages: a secure home life, two parents who truly loved him and worked toward his success as well as their own financial security, parents/adults who were good role models of hard work and perseverance. Now to read everyone else's thoughts on this one!