Sunday, November 17, 2019

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Second book club book #6

This was a good story, but I don't have any overwhelming feelings toward it. I liked the book, but nothing stands out for me to attach to and rave about. 

The novel takes the reader through the marriage of Roy and Celestial. It starts off regular enough, until Roy gets accused and convicted of a crime that sends him to jail for up to 12 years. All the emotions that come with being separated from your spouse, in an impossible situation, come through not just between Roy and Celestial, but the other people close to them -- parents, best friends, and other relatives all struggle to interpret what happens to a relationship in this situation. They also aren't uncomfortable offering their opinions when things aren't going the "right" way.

I can't imagine being separated from my spouse for years at a time. It would be so hard, regardless of what forces were keeping us apart. The struggle of having to decide what trajectory to take your life on when you don't have your partner as a consultant would be so rough, and you really feel all that in this book. The whole story feels extremely real, and is enhanced by the assortment of characters who come into play. It's also convenient that nobody seems to be exactly on the same page, so you get every point of view, leading up to the idea that maybe there is no such thing as a typical, "American Marriage."

This book could have gone in a completely different direction than it did. Because the characters are African American, the story could have been told as a social commentary. For me, that piece of the story, which is very valid, took a backseat to the emotional experiences of the characters. Through feelings, we're drawn into the lives of these characters, greatly impacted by the wrong that's out in the world.

For me, the point of this book is that an actual American Marriage is whatever you make of it to find happiness. It's not a marriage certificate or having kids, but rather finding that gut-wrenching love that almost puts you in the grave beside your spouse. It can even be found in the practical movements in everyday life. It's about surviving and finding where you really fit, not about forcing yourself into an ideal image that's really more about settling. Roy and Celestial go through some very tough times together, but in the end it helps them find their true happiness, so maybe the journey is what a relationship is all about, and marriage is irrelevant.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

After you finish rolling your eyes because the main characters are named Jo and Bethie (Hi Little Women, we get it,) get into this book. It's a great trip from the 1950's through to today as the lives of two sisters move through the world as it changes around them. 

The feminist theme is strong in this book, but it's primarily viewed through the situations the sisters experience. It feels more true-to-life than the more preachy tone that can occur. Although, by the end of the book, we're stuck with this blatant reflection on the woman's place that is definitely more in-your-face than the message is anywhere else in the book.

Those little issues aside, this is a great story of what women go through, and how real the struggle can be to find yourself among all the expectations and responsibilities flying at us. The book touches on so many central, feminine issues that aren't talked about enough -- family relationships, female relationships, abuse, the mom struggle, sexual identity, settling, self-care. These characters are very busy moving from one thing to the next or struggle with more than one issue at a time, but it's not contrived. It may be predictable, but it's natural for these characters to move through the phases of life Weiner lays out for them.

What I liked most about these sisters was the yin and yang of their stories. One stepped forward while the other got entangled and vice versa. Neither of them had it perfect, but with a sisterly connection, they made it through. As they age and bring more people into the family, you continue to see representations of the female struggle, but you also gain some insight into the fact that true female happiness is when you live your best life, make choices that bring your joy, and put yourself higher up on the priority list, even as you care for others. 

Moving through the decades in this book, underneath the female lense, was comfortable and emotional. I really liked and enjoyed it, even if I did wish the characters had different names. I highly suggest this one!