An American Marriage review: Nuanced dissection of love, race, class, family and gender

Books in brief: Ben Elton has his finger on the pulse of a confused UK

Tayari Jones: “For most of my life, American wasn’t a word I felt was addressed to me without adding black.” Photograph: Nina Subin

Tayari Jones: “For most of my life, American wasn’t a word I felt was addressed to me without adding black.” Photograph: Nina Subin

 

An American Marriage
By Tayari Jones
Oneworld Publications, £8.99
“What happens to you doesn’t belong to you, only half concerns you. It’s not yours. Not yours only.” (Claudia Rankine). The novel An American Marriage, like all great works of art, makes you uncomfortable. It is a nuanced dissection of love, race, class, family and gender.

Although from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, entrepreneur Roy, and his artist wife Celestial are the embodiment of the American dream. This is until Roy is dragged from his bed accused of a crime, he did not commit. While Roy is incarcerated Celestials career thrives, as Roy’s role in society, and his marriage is rendered obsolete.

Their relationship unravels, as Celestial seeks comfort in the couples mutual friend Andre, and Roy in his cellmate Walter. However, when Roys conviction is overturned, their separate realities collide. By allowing three perspectives - Roy, Celestial, and Andre to contribute to the narrative, Tayari Jones showcases the relevance of subjectivity and humanises each character.

The sharp simplicity of Jones writing unleashes her characters vulnerabilities, and facilitates a remarkably intimate portrait of a corrupt justice system, and the irreversible effects of wrongful conviction.

Jones references to black culture, and construction of strong black characters offers a refreshing and necessary education for white readers. Who would rarely be accosted by the realities she presents.

Identity Crisis
By Ben Elton
Bantam Press, £18.99
Detective Mick Matlock is afraid to open his mouth. Every day seems to involve another accusation of political incorrectness, and he struggles to understand the ever-changing acronyms associated with each minority group. When a body is discovered in a London park, Matlock suggests that the victim was “in the wrong place, at the wrong time” and social media goes wild with suggestions of his anti-feminist stance. The coroner resents Matlock’s use of the word “victim”, stating that “survivor” is the correct term. He wonders if a “survivor” can be dead?

Ben Elton. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images
Ben Elton: satirical narrative which is uncomfortably hilarious. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

As the body count increases, social media is abuzz with fake-news and clickbait surrounding the upcoming #EnglandOut referendum. A mathematician, Malika, creates algorithms that help target the right voters, while #TeamUK piggybacks on the success of Love Island, with disastrous results.

Three shady politicians on the right (Bunty Jolly, Guppy Toad and Plantagenet Greased-Hogg) flip-flop their stance on political correctness as voting day approaches. Elton has his finger on the pulse of a confused UK and has created a satirical narrative which is uncomfortably hilarious. Think Yes Minister, with a blend of UnReal.

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