Saturday, January 7, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler’s novels are always brimful of insights into human nature. I’ve enjoyed some more than others, but I’ve never disliked one of her books. I’m glad she has a large backlist so that I can return to her writing again and again.

I just finished An Amateur Marriage. Told in scenes, widely spaced throughout the years from WWII to the 1990s, it’s the story of a marriage of two people who were just wrong for one another. How do these marriages start? How do they manage to keep going year after year? 

Michael and Pauline Anton meet during an impromptu street parade through Michael’s Polish neighborhood in Baltimore. (It is just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the city has erupted with patriotic fervor. All the boys are enlisting.) Michael is a lower middle-class shopkeeper’s son and Pauline is from a Protestant neighborhood across town. They are very young. It’s an exciting time. And they quickly fall in love.

Being wartime, they have a rather rushed courtship and marriage. Three children follow. The household is one of constant clashing. The husband and wife bring out the worst in each other. Michael is an introverted and somewhat stodgy man. Pauline is extroverted to the extreme, impulsive, and self-absorbed. The constant fighting is very damaging to the children, particularly to the eldest, Lindy. 

The reader peeks in on the family as they all grow up and watches them start falling apart. Lindy runs off and disappears, leaving a gaping hole in the already fractured family. Michael and Pauline age. Friends and family die. And then, on their 30th wedding anniversary, during yet another fight, whatever tenuous bond that held them together snaps.

The story continues, showing us how they cope (or don’t) and move on (or don’t). The story is sad, but it’s a muted kind of sad. It isn’t tragic or grand. It’s just a realistic portrayal of unhappy lives.

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