Monday, August 6, 2007

The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler

The Amateur Marriage is the story of two people with very different personalities who are flung together during World War II and decide to make a life together.

Pauline is an energetic, attractive, talkative young woman, who likes to enjoy herself. Michael is quiet and reserved and likes to stay home.

Michael rather impetuously proposes to Pauline, remembering how she looked, how she ran toward him to say goodby when he was leaving for the war, her red coat flying behind her. At various times in his later life he remembers that moment and reaffirms his love for her.

The marriage has a rocky beginning. Pauline is expected to move into a tiny apartment above Michael's mother's store, and to live with Michael's mother. She manages to adjust to it but has her eye on a more suburban type life, which she ultimately obtains.

The two don't understand each other and it appears that neither knows quite what to do about it. The rocky beginning starts to spread into the middle and further out into Pauline and Michael's time as grandparents. For this novel takes us through the entire marriage, including significant portions related to their children.

I felt that the descriptions of Pauline in particular are almost mocking, almost parody. Little episodes from their lives as it spans decades are drawn lightly and similarly with almost a smirk, mocking the age and the sensibilities of the time, and the nature of this woman. She isn't particularly likeable.

Michael is drawn with a little more affection, yet his stiffness is always apparent and often irritating.

Tyler seems to like looking back at the fifties and sixties in particular, and she has an ear for how it sounded, how people talked and thought then. Even though I felt the sets were accurate, I would have preferred more inside work, more of Pauline and Michael inside than out. In general, I like Anne Tyler's work but feel that it touches me lightly rather than deeply. It makes me think a little but does not linger.

4 out of 5 stars

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