They Had Library Holds: An American Marriage and Red Clocks Mini-Reviews

Egads, I’m SO behind on reviews. I’m tempted to throw in the towel and forget about them, but these two books are SO GOOD that I feel like I can’t in good conscience move on without writing just a little bit about them. I had to turn in my library copies of these a couple of weeks ago, so I have no quotatations to share with you, unfortunately. But they both made such an impression on me that I am confident I’ll be including them on my year end Top Ten list.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones intimidated me at first. I worried it would be too depressing for me to handle. While it certainly was sad, it wasn’t hopeless by any means. It’s about a young African American couple, married for a year and a half before the unthinkable happens. Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

61D-QSBXV+LNewlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. 

What I loved about this novel was that it was so nuanced, so complex. Everyone in it was believable, flawed, human. I never felt like there was one person that I was supposed to “root for,” other than to have the injustice of Roy’s conviction overturned. This was an intimate portrayal of a marriage in the most dire of circumstances. Celestial and Roy were fully formed characters and I believed all of their actions and dialogue. Despite the shocking plot event that forms the central story arc, this was a character study. I read this rather quickly and was very impressed by the quality of the writing. I will definitely have to read Tayari Jones again. Once again, Oprah picked a winner!

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas was a surprise for me. I thought it would be more sci-fi/dystopian than it turned out to be. It’s really literary fiction set in a slightly different reality than the one we are in right now. Here’s the blurb:

51Hq-siMA7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

This is a hard novel to describe. I see on Goodreads it seems to be polarizing. I loved it because I loved the raw honesty with which these women’s lives were portrayed. I may have felt more affinity with certain characters, like Ro, the single high school teacher desperately trying to have a baby but wondering why she’s trying so hard, or Susan, the housewife and mother who feels unchallenged and underappreciated by her family role. Others, like Mattie, the pregnant teenager, and Eivor, the unknown 19th century explorer that Ro is trying to write a biography of, felt a bit underdeveloped. But the book as a whole worked for me because I was invested in these women’s lives, and it was scary how plausible their reproductive nightmare scenario is to being reality. This was a world just like ours except that abortion is illegal and in-vitro is banned; Ro is desperate to get pregnant partly because in a matter of months it will be illegal for single women to adopt children as well (because two parents are best, of course.) I think Susan and maybe Ro both mused about how things changed so quickly in America, and that they regretted not doing more, not being more involved in the protests. But ultimately this is a novel not about politics but about women, women’s bodies and desires and agency. I didn’t always agree with their choices but I was enthralled by them. Here’s another author I clearly need to catch up on.

Have you read either one of these, or are they on your TBR list? What do you when (if) you get behind on reviews? Mini-reviews or just move on and forget about them?


19 thoughts on “They Had Library Holds: An American Marriage and Red Clocks Mini-Reviews

  1. I haven’t read either of these, but I believe Naomi at Consumed By In recently reviewed Red Clocks and really got into how these 5 women are different, yet the novel comes together.

    Also, here’s a trick I do when I have library books: I take a picture of the page with the quote I want to keep. Then I can refer to my phone when I write my review. Also, with cell phone pics, you can zoom in easily.

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  2. Is it any surprise that Oprah picks good books? It’s Oprah!!! haha

    Red Clocks sounds really interesting and very scary, mainly because it does sound so plausible, at least in the US (sorry!). 😦

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  3. I have a review copy of An American Marriage and I look forward to reading it later on this summer. I realized I actually have three other Oprah titles on my summer reading stack! I know she picks engrossing and rewarding books, so that’s no problem as far as I’m concerned.

    I’m really interested in Red Clocks but haven’t been able to find it in the UK yet — I think it got a lot less buzz over here than it did in the USA.

    Mini-reviews are a great way to deal with books you think are worthy of featuring but for whatever reason don’t have time to review in full. Just a paragraph of reactions, like you’ve done above, really works!

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  4. I loved An American Marraige – I agree it was totally the conflict in your heart that made this one a winner. And you just put Red Clocks on my tbr. I’m not typically a dystopian reader, but hearing that its more literary fiction has certainly piqued my interest!

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  5. I’ve seem both of these books and tbh, I sometimes stay away from a while until the hype dies down. But who am I kidding, I’m trying to put a dent in my own books and catch up on reviews too. Sometimes I think some books are easy to write about and discuss while others might not be ones I want to review right away, I keep a book journal and usually make some notes and dump my feelings during or after I finish so it’s helpful if I decide to go back and write a review. Except in the rare case of one book I didn’t write anything down.

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    1. There is only so much time! Kudos for you for trying to read your own books. That’s one of my reading goals for this year. Not super easy because I work at the library and have easy access to new books! Anyway, I used to keep a reading notebook with notes on the books I was reading, but then I drifted away from that and began using post-it notes in the books. I may go back to he notebook. Seemed like I could get more written down and articulate my thoughts better.

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  6. Egads indeed! But not egads because you’re behind on reviews (I definitely don’t post reviews for all the books I read. That would be a full-time job, I think…), but egads because neither of these books is on my TBR.

    I will admit, Red Clocks is not one I am drawn to. I am over dystopian worlds where women suffer for being who they are. I’m a bit jaded at this point and probably need some space before picking this book up. That said, your review has convinced me it should go on the TBR somewhere, even if I won’t read it now.

    An American Marriage is another book I am not drawn to, but that’s because I didn’t want to get lost in the legal battle. Knowing it’s a character study means I’m ready to pick it up!

    You are so bad for my TBR. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It makes me feel so much better to hear that you don’t review all the books you read! I understand about Red Clocks. But I do hope you pick up An American Marriage -it’s one of my favorite books so far this year. There is very little in the way of legal stuff – mostly relationship/family stuff.

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      1. Oy. I’d drown under all the reviews I need to write. I’ve actually gotten to a point where I struggle to make time to sit down and write them. I want to read instead! With changes in my work life, free time has gotten more and more difficult to come by. I’m greedy with how I spend my time.

        They are both on my TBR now. I’ll keep a close eye on availablity at the library for An American Marriage, though. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonderfully written reviews! I’m actually reading An American Marriage for my book club and so far so good! I was a bit skeptical going into it since it has been held in such high regard being on the Oprah list and all that but so far so good! I also love the complexity of the book, especially the writing style. It’s so creative how the form of narration switches between epistolary and prose. I also enjoy how raw and deep the struggles each of the characters are. Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your reviews and look forward to more of them in the future. Happy summer reading! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Delphine! I’ll have to visit your blog too. I am so glad to head that you enjoyed American Marriage so much. The form and the rawness were things I appreciated as well. It’s still one of the best reads of the year so far for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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