Publication Date: Feb 6th, 2018 By Algonquin Books
Newlyweds 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 and seeks comfort with someone else. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This was one of my most anticipated winter reads as I’m so drawn to stories about innocent people in prison. While I usually read non-fiction stories involving this topic I couldn’t wait to see how it was explored by Jones in this fictional story. I’ll admit I had a little bit of a hard time getting into the flow of the story in the beginning and I think that was due to the writing style and possibly the character’s voices. We are initially introduced to Roy and Celestial in the first year of their marriage with occasional backstory of how they met interspersed. The narrative switches perspectives between both Roy and Celestial so we get to “hear” from both of them. The glimpses we get of their marriage were intriguing because I found myself wondering if perhaps Roy was more invested in the marriage than Celestial.
As the story progressed, I began to like it even more, especially when Roy was unjustly convicted…it was tragic and I can’t imagine how that would affect not just Roy and Celestial but their marriage and their extended families. Everyone was traumatized. I’m going to be honest, once Roy went to prison and the story shifted to quite a lot of letter writing between the two as well as quite a bit of what felt like emotional examinations of everyone’s feelings, the story took on a meandering pace for me. By the halfway point, I found my mind wandering and I started to skim many sections. For me, this can be my struggle with literary fiction…I love the story and really want to just get to it and find out what happens to Roy, who will Celestial ultimately choose, and what will become of their marriage…instead the narratives meander to the distant past and to details of their everyday living that I just struggled staying interested in.
As the story neared the end, I’m not sure I fully connected with the ending but I will say Roy’s character…his fate and his future…is what kept me reading and hoping things would turn around for him. This was a really well conceived storyline that shed light on how our justice system can and does ruin lives. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it like I expected to and finished feeling pretty middle of the road.
Many thanks to Algonquin Books via Netgalley for my copy