About this title:
From the inimitable Anne Tyler, a rich and compelling novel about a mismatched marriage—and its consequences, spanning three generations.
They seemed like the perfect couple—young, good-looking, made for each other. The moment Pauline, a stranger to the Polish Eastern Avenue neighborhood of Baltimore (though she lived only twenty minutes away), walked into his mother’s grocery store, Michael was smitten. And in the heat of World War II fervor, they are propelled into a hasty wedding. But they never should have married.
Pauline, impulsive, impractical, tumbles hit-or-miss through life; Michael, plodding, cautious, judgmental, proceeds deliberately. While other young marrieds, equally ignorant at the start, seemed to grow more seasoned, Pauline and Michael remain amateurs. In time their foolish quarrels take their toll. Even when they find themselves, almost thirty years later, loving, instant parents to a little grandson named Pagan, whom they rescue from Haight-Ashbury, they still cannot bridge their deep-rooted differences. Flighty Pauline clings to the notion that the rifts can always be patched. To the unyielding Michael, they become unbearable.
From the sound of the cash register in the old grocery to the counterculture jargon of the sixties, from the miniskirts to the multilayered apparel of later years, Anne Tyler captures the evocative nuances of everyday life during these decades with such telling precision that every page brings smiles of recognition. Throughout, as each of the competing voices bears witness, we are drawn ever more fully into the complex entanglements of family life in this wise, embracing, and deeply perceptive novel.
Anne Tyler's The Amateur Marriage is not so much a novel as a really long argument. Michael is a good boy from a Polish neighborhood in Baltimore; Pauline is a harum-scarum, bright-cheeked girl who blows into Michael's family's grocery store at the outset of World War II. She appears with a bloodied brow, supported by a gaggle of girlfriends. Michael patches her up, and neither of them are ever the same. Well, not the same as they were before, but pretty much the same as everyone else. After the war, they live over the shop with Michael's mother till they've saved enough to move to the suburbs. There they remain with their three children, until the onset of the sixties, when their eldest daughter runs away to San Francisco. Their marriage survives for a while, finally crumbling in the seventies. If this all sounds a tad generic, Tyler's case isn't helped by the characteristics she's given the two spouses. Him: repressed, censorious, quiet. Her: voluble, emotional, romantic. Mars, meet Venus. What marks this couple, though, and what makes them come alive, is their bitter, unproductive, tooth-and-nail fighting. Tyler is exploring the way that ordinary-seeming, prosperous people can survive in emotional poverty for years on end. She gets just right the tricks Michael and Pauline play on themselves in order to stay together: "How many times," Pauline asks herself, "when she was weary of dealing with Michael, had she forced herself to recall the way he'd looked that first day? The slant of his fine cheekbones, the firming of his lips as he pressed the adhesive tape in place on her forehead." Only in antogonism do Michael and Pauline find a way to express themselves. --Claire Dederer
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