As author Tayari Jones has herself pointed out, An American Marriage, winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and an Oprah Book Club 2.0 selection, was a “breakthrough” nearly two decades in the making, reaching an audience many times over that of three previous well-regarded novels. For that reason, as well as the tale’s topical backdrop, the dissection crew was eager to explore how a devoted novelist remained true to her voice while still managing to capture the zeitgeist of the times.
“How did the author do it?” is the key question behind all of our discussions. And in this case, over a four-day period, it became clear that, despite quibbles over a narrative structure that at times created distance from the story action, Jones achieved her due by focusing on three aspects that elevated her story:
- Jones crafted an intimate, heartfelt story against the backdrop of a larger, intractable menace.
- She developed realistic, flawed characters whose rich backstories enhance the story and challenge the reader.
- She continually opened up her story in surprising ways, raising stakes and ratcheting up the tension.
While I promise to keep final novel outcomes hidden, fair warning that *spoilers* do lurk in the following samplings of the group’s discussion of these attributes. [Read more…]