The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler
Review From Publishers Weekly
Because Tyler writes with scrupulous accuracy about muddled, unglamorous suburbanites, it is easy to underestimate her as a sort of Pyrex realist. Yes, Tyler intuitively understands the middle class's Norman Rockwell ideal, but she doesn't share it; rather, she has a masterful ability to make it bleed. Her latest novel delineates, in careful strokes, the 30-year marriage of Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay, and its dissolution. In December 1941 in St. Cassians, a mainly Eastern European conclave in Baltimore, 20-year-old Michael meets Pauline and is immediately smitten. They marry after Michael is discharged from the army, but their temperaments don't mix. For Michael, self-control is the greatest of virtues; for Pauline, expression is what makes us human. She is compulsively friendly, a bad hider of emotions, selfish in her generosity ("my homeless man") and generous in her selfishness. At Pauline's urging, the two move to the suburbs, where they raise three children, George, Karen and Lindy. Lindy runs away in 1960 and never comes back-although in 1968, Pauline and Michael retrieve Pagan, Lindy's three-year-old, from her San Francisco landlady while Lindy detoxes in a rehab community that her parents aren't allowed to enter. Michael and Pauline got married at a time when the common wisdom, expressed by Pauline's mother, was that "marriages were like fruit trees.... Those trees with different kinds of branches grafted onto the trunks. After a time, they meld, they grow together, and... if you tried to separate them you would cause a fatal wound." They live into an era in which the accumulated incompatibilities of marriage end, logically, in divorce. For Michael, who leaves Pauline on their 30th anniversary, divorce is redemption. For Pauline, the divorce is, at first, a tragedy; gradually, separation becomes a habit. A lesser novelist would take moral sides, using this story to make a didactic point. Tyler is much more concerned with the fine art of human survival in changing circumstances. The range and power of this novel should not only please Tyler's immense readership but also awaken us to the collective excellency of her career.
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This book was a departure from my usual reads. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, quite the opposite actually. It didn't hook you in and keep your attention like the murder mysteries I've read, but when you pause, you realize you want more. I kept making time during the day so I could go back to it because I was just so curious to see how it all turned out. I consumed the last pages after Nate got home from work and let out a few "Are you serious?!"s and some "No way! You've got to be kidding."s, which made him chuckle.
Anne Tyler's writing of this book was very real and written so that you shared in the emotions of the characters, almost too real for me. At one point, when one of the characters is strung out and drugged up I felt like I was right there and for that chapter I was scared to be a mom. I became scared of doing something that would negatively affect my kids that would lead them down a life like that and had momentary regrets about being responsible for anyone but myself. Hey, it's easier for me to control just me...have you met Kyleigh?? :) So of course I put the book down and lavished hugs and kisses and giggles and tickles upon my girls--the cure for anything, I promise.
I can't say it will become a regular read, but I am glad I read it. I look forward to reading more of Anne Tyler's books now that I have had a taste of her style of writing.
Up Next: The World Below, by Sue Miller