Tayari Jones’s triumphant fourth book, An American Marriage, examines the fallout from a collision between the butterfly effect and the workings of systemic racism, depicting the toll of wrongful imprisonment on the lives of a young black couple in the United States. Roy is from Louisiana, a sales rep for a textbook company on his way up. His wife, Celestial, is an artist from Atlanta, her primary medium being high-end dolls called poupées. Like most newlyweds, they have occasional fights, navigate their respective in-laws and anticipate the upward trajectory of their careers. Over Labor Day weekend a year or so into their marriage, they drive to Eloe to visit Roy’s parents, staying in the only hotel in town. During an argument that breaks out between them, Roy calls a fifteen-minute timeout before either of them says something ‘that we couldn’t come back from’. While Celestial fumes on the phone to her childhood friend Andre, Roy goes to fill the ice bucket from a machine upstairs. While there, he encounters a woman with her arm in a sling. Being ‘the gentleman my mama raised me to be’, he tries to help her by taking her ice bucket back to her room. That night, the door to Roy and Celestial’s room is kicked down by the police. The couple are pulled from their bed and find themselves lying beside each other on the asphalt outside. The woman that Roy helped earlier that evening has been raped and she is convinced that he was the perpetrator. The alibi that Celestial provides – that he was lying beside her the entire night – is not enough in the courtroom and Roy is sentenced to twelve years in prison.
The years of Roy’s imprisonment are related through a series of letters exchanged between him and his wife. In her early correspondence, Celestial talks about the children they will have once he gets out and how she loves him ‘as much as I did the day I married