As it happens, I have just finished two consecutive books centred around the theme of marriage. Two very different genres, perspectives and very, very different takes. But both interesting reads in their own right.
An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
This was a slow, deeply thought out, insightful and very, very honest look at marriage. Set against a backdrop of the severe consequences of discriminations and inequality in the criminal justice system of America.
Narrated in first-person, through voices of multiple characters in the story, An American Marriage looks at a typical marriage and what happens when Roy is wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He is released in 5, but by then too many things have already happened to his marriage with Celestial. The journey there-on throws up a series of difficult, surprising and very relevant situations ad questions about loyalty, infidelity, right and wrong.
As such, my own views on the institution of marriage have undergone a wild shift in the ten years of being married myself, and reading this book really brought a lot of my own inconclusive thoughts front and centre. The book is simply written, and the story is pretty simple too, but through the theme and the different perspectives of the characters involved, Jones has done a splendid job of bringing out all her questions in a raw, rousing and very real way.
Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny
Several reviews on Goodreads claimed this was an absolute laugh-out-loud book. I can say for certain that it was not. Not for me, at least. That is entirely an issue of the style and how it didn’t really make me laugh out loud. At best, it made me chuckle and smile a lot, but that was it.
That said, it was a lovely read. Again, this is a story about the marriage of Graham and Audra who each bring their own idiosyncrasies as well as quirks and ample baggage from the past with them. They’re also raising an 11-year old son with Asperger’s, which lends a whole other complexity to their marriage. Audra is the diametric opposite of Graham’s first wife, and through the book the contrasts are presented over and over. This story takes a hard look at how things change, how it’s possible for a person to love such differing personalities. Obviously, I loved this aspect because this sort of fundamental needle-pushing change is what I’m currently obsessed with observing in my own life. So it really ticked the boxes for me.
It’s a light-hearted but poignant look at modern marriage and the many ways in which it seems to be transforming, giving couples space to define a whole new level of normal, outside the expected, stereotypical boundaries of what we have known marriage to be.
The style is light and warm, but has a punch. Audra’s character is full of life and that really comes through, while Graham is subdued and calm, which also comes through in an entirely different way. It will give you the fuzzies in parts, make you chuckle and also touch you. This felt like a Nick Hornby or David Nicholls book told by a woman. I loved reading it.