An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
With its intriguing premise, and my commitment to reading authors of colour, it’s strange that I missed this one when it was published (in the UK by Oneworld) in 2018. It appeared – or reappeared – on my radar at a Zoom event this summer; I’d been drawn by Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House and one of my all-time favourite novels Bel Canto, but warmed much more to Tayari Jones. Unfortunately, I didn’t warm to her Women’s Prize winning novel.
Soldier Boy by Cassandra Parkin
Frank is delighted when his son turns up, with grandchild in tow, at his wooden bungalow on the coast. He hasn’t seen Liam for decades, not since Jane, his wife, decreed the father-role redundant and severed all contact. In the intervening years, despite months away on active service, Jane has kept Liam and his family close. She’s always supported her daughter-in-law but, if there’s a rift in the marriage, she knows where her loyalties lie.
With a fragmented timeline, and five point-of-view characters, each with their own vulnerabilities and blind spots, the novel might seem overly complicated, but it doesn’t read that way. Cassandra Parkin guides us deftly through the complexities with deep compassion for her characters and sensitivity to the nuances of psychological distress. The issues – of parenting, gender, mental health (particularly combat PTSD and OCD) and the burden on the veteran spouse – read as the hurdles faced by real people rather than (as can sometimes happen) to tick the boxes that sell books.
Yes, I was impressed, particularly as the author has published a novel a year since 2015 (which wouldn’t give me enough time to dig so deep). In retrospect, there a couple of places where I might query the credibility but I was too absorbed in the story to mind. However, a saggy opening, with three chapters of internal monologue, almost put me off and does not do justice to what is otherwise a remarkable book. Thank you to Legend Press for my review copy.
Since there are overlapping issues with my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity secret for thirty years, here’s a recent reading:
“You’re working for peanuts!”
“They don’t farm peanuts. Besides, peanuts aren’t nuts.”
“But you are, breaking your back for the price of a few rounds of drinks.”
“How much would you pay for an all-you-can-eat buffet?”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“How much? Cos that’s what you’d save, snacking all day in the fields.”
“Do they grow pizza? Do they grow chicken vindaloo?”
“They don’t. But there’s always a premium for the healthy option. Think what it costs to starve at a spa.”
“Are there strawberries?”
“Whopping great strawberries. Blueberries. Apples. Tomatoes. Cucumber. Peas, beans, big juicy pears.”