Between the Lines Book Club: Discussion Questions

between the lines book club logoI hope all my Book Clubbers have been safely indoors, running their air conditioning and reading under a fan! We will have a Zoom meeting on Saturday, September 26, 2020, at 10:30AM to discuss An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

Here are some discussion questions (pulled from Oprah’s Book Club and from Book Riot)

  1. Jones named her novel An American Marriage, a title which suggests this novel has something specific to say about marriage in America. What do you think this novel is saying about marriage? What makes the events of this novel specifically American?

2. For Celestial, it seems as if certain behaviors are expected of her as a woman and, even more specifically, as Black woman. What sort of expectations do we see her family and Roy place on her? Are these expectations fair? Do you agree with how she responded to them?

3. This story is told in three alternating perspectives: Celestial, Roy, and Andre. Was there a certain perspective you responded more positively towards? How do you think you would view these characters differently if the story was told only from Celestial’s point of view? Or Roy’s?

4. This novel’s pacing is interesting in that it focuses in on specific moments of time for an extended period, speeds through others through the exchange of letters, and skips over periods of time entirely to move on to the next important moment. Why do you think Jones chose the moments she did to write about in detail? What effect did the fast passage of time have on the narrative?

5. When Celestial asks Roy if he would have waited for her for more than five years, he doesn’t answer her question but reminds her that, as a woman, she would not have been imprisoned in the first place. Do you feel that his response is valid? Do you believe that he would have remained faithful if Celestial had been the one incarcerated? Does this really matter, and if so, why? 

6. You may not have noticed that Tayari Jones does not specify the race of the woman who accuses Roy of rape. How did you picture this woman? What difference does the race of this woman make in the way you understand the novel’s storyline? 

7. Andre insists that he doesn’t owe Roy an apology for the way his relationship with Celestial changed. Do you agree? Why or why not? 

8. There are two father figures in Roy’s life: Big Roy is the one who shepherded him into adulthood and helped him grow into a responsible, capable person, but Walter is the one who taught Roy how to survive. Do you feel these men deserve equal credit? If not, which was the more important figure in Roy’s life and why? 

9. When Roy is released from prison, he first goes to his childhood home and almost immediately makes a connection with Davina. Do you feel that given the tenuous relationship he has with Celestial—who is still legally his wife—he is cheating? Why or why not? And when Roy announces to Davina his intention to return to his wife, do you feel that her anger is justified? 

10. Roy is hurt when Celestial, in discussing her career as an artist, doesn’t mention him or the role he played in giving her the encouragement and freedom to follow her dreams, but Walter argues that she is justified in her silence. Do you agree? Do you think her silence is due to shame, or is she just being practical in how she presents herself to advance her career? 

11. It is obvious that Andre is different from Roy in many ways. Do you feel that he is a better match for Celestial? If so, why? Also, why do you think Celestial and Andre decide against formally marrying? Do you think that as a couple they will be good and nurturing parents? Do you feel that as a couple, they will be better at parenting than Celestial and Roy would have been? If so, why? 

12. Toward the end of the novel, Celestial does a complete about-face and returns to Roy. What do you think her emotions were in coming to that decision? Do you feel that it was the right decision?

13. There are so many beautiful insights about love and the nature of love in this novel. For instance, Jones writes, “Love is the enemy of sound judgment, and occasionally this is in service of the good.” Do you agree with this sentiment? How does love affect characters’ decisions in this novel?

14. How did you feel about the ending of this novel? Was it hopeful at all? Did you want things to turn out differently for these characters, and if so, how? Would the marriage have survived if Roy had not gone to jail?

For more reading, compare this book to James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. Also read The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

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