The hype for this book has been constant since it was released and continued long after it won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019. I think every shred of hype was entirely deserved.
What a heartbreakingly poignant, honest story that never stops asking questions, and which reminds us of the value of perspective. Nobody is perfect. No character is even particularly likeable, and they’re all making one dubious decision after another. But they’re all unquestionably real, three dimensional people, working with what they’ve been given the best way they know how.
When Roy is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, yet another man in the wrong place with the wrong skin colour at the wrong time in Louisiana, his new marriage to Celestial enters a realm it was never intended to exist within. Roy, in prison longer than he has even been married to Celestial. Celestial, living half a life that she didn’t sign up for.
But what did she sign up for? Roy certainly didn’t sign up for his lot. What is marriage, if not “for better or for worse”? Is this unexpected, unjust situation not precisely what this “clause” stipulates? As a reader we are in a constant battle with our sympathies, asking ourselves not just whether Celestial should trade in her life as some kind of compensation for the loss of Roy’s, when he is going to be locked up regardless of how much she suffers, but the gnawing fact that Roy, too, is innocent. Is the ruining of two lives for a crime not committed somehow better than one? If we are only sympathetic to who has it worse, rather than who has it hard, are we disregarding everything it means to be an emotionally intelligent human being?
Now, get jealous and read this wonderful dedication and signature from Tayari Jones:
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