The story follows familiar lines, but don’t let that simplicity fool you. It’s a story of three people, Roy, Celestial, and Andre. Roy and Celestial are married and living in Atlanta. Andre and Celestial grew up as next-door neighbors and are often described as siblings. At college, Andre and Roy were close friends, and Andre was the one who introduced Roy and Celestial.
After eighteen months of marriage, Roy and Celestial are visiting Roy’s family in Louisiana when Roy is arrested and convicted of raping a woman at the hotel where he and Celestial are staying. He’s sentenced to twelve years in prison. He didn’t commit the crime. Roy’s crime was being a black man in racist America and being a convenient target for a corrupt prosecutor.
The novel tells the story of the following years for these three characters, in alternating sections in their own voices, and through their letters.
I think the aspect of this novel that I’m most impressed with is that Jones makes all three characters real. Throughout the novel, I both feel pity for, and judge, each of them at different times–just as I might real people. I’m impressed with that feeling of reality.
I won’t spoil anything that happens after the opening incident, arrest, and trial. But I found it compelling and read the whole book quite quickly. It’s definitely worth your time.
The one qualm I had is that the voices of the three characters seemed inconsistent to me, especially Roy’s. All three people are well educated, professional people. But at times, Jones has them speak far too often in clichés. I sense that some of that may be regional colloquialisms, but it was jarring to me from time to time.
A note to the publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill: someone dropped the ball on proofreading near the end of the novel. In the last fifty pages or so, there are an appalling number of typos.