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Why if you liked Tayari Jones's An American Marriage, you'll enjoy Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page

The Next Chapter columnist Donna Bailey Nurse finds a Canadian counterpart to Tayari Jones' An American Marriage.
Donna Bailey Nurse is a columnist for The Next Chapter. (Donna Bailey Nurse, Biblioasis, Thorndike Press)

This interview originally aired on Sept. 7, 2019.

An American Marriage by American author Tayari Jones explores the many challenges of getting and staying together through marriage.

The bestselling book won the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction, the 2019 Aspen Words Literary Prize and has been acclaimed by names such as Oprah and Barack Obama.

The Next Chapter columnist Donna Bailey Nurse has read An American Marriageand says if you enjoyed the award-winning novel — and love books about marriage — you should check out the Canadian novel Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones is the author of An American Marriage. (Nina Subin, Thorndike Press)

"The story of An American Marriage is set in Atlanta. The wife, Celestial, is an artist from a well-off family. Her husband is Roy who comes from a working class town in Louisiana. They've only been married about a year and a half when Roy is falsely accused of rape. The novel is actually about the struggle to keep their marriage alive, mostly through letters while he's at prison.

"Through these letters, we actually begin to see Celestial's feelings begin to peter out. She's just not able to handle the idea of being an inmate's wife. He's proven innocent and released after five years, but by then she's already in love with the boy next door. 

"I love the title An American Marriage because I think it's saying two things. It's saying first of all that, of course, it's a black American marriage where all too often a large percentage of black men end up for one reason or another in prison or shot. At the same time it's about the fact that ordinary marriages have difficulties. So it's about that those two things: the special difficulties facing black American couples and the ordinary difficulties facing any family."

Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page

Kathy Page's latest book is the novel Dear Evelyn. (Biblioasis, Billie Woods)

"Dear Evelyn won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in 2018. It's an older couple compared to the one in An American Marriage, and this is set in England. But what they both talk about, through letters, is the idea of a marriage challenged by separation and time. It's about Harry Miles and Evelyn Hill, who meet at the library in the months leading up to the Second World War. He enlists to the military and, for the very first years of their marriage, they see each other only when he's on leave.

"So they really get to know each other and to love each other through the letters that they write one another. That's how their relationship comes into being, through these passionate letters. But then he comes home and they have to get to know each other properly. What Kathy Page gives us in Dear Evelyn is the entire trajectory of their 70-year marriage."

Donna Bailey Nurse's comments have been edited for length and clarity.