drea 's Reviews > The Amateur Marriage

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
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Aug 29, 2011

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Read from August 29 to 31, 2011

Pretty sure that if THE AMATEUR MARRIAGE had come out any earlier, it would have appeared with a blurb comparing it to Mad Men, even though it's about a decade behind on the historical timeline. While reading, I couldn't help but think of Michael and Pauline Anton as Don and Betty Draper, if Don were less suave and in Maryland grocery-store management rather than advertising. At the end of the day, they both deal with unrealized fantasies about love and relationships, and how those are influenced by society and politics and even a dash of patriotism.

Pauline and Michael meet on the day after Pearl Harbor when Pauline comes into Michael's mother's small Polish grocery with a cut on her ear from getting too caught up in America's pre-war fervor. Michael is immediately smitten and makes a hasty decision to enlist as a way of impressing her. He goes to war and writes her every day; she replies sporadically and works in the canteen serving other soldiers. When Michael is wounded and returns, he jealously proposes marriage and Pauline agrees out of narcissicm. It's a horrible idea and a shaky foundation, but they do it anyway, sparking a long, bitter marriage of unfulfilled expectations.

I happen to like novels where people spend most of their time sniping at one another, but if you don't, then this is probably not your cup of tea, even if there are some truly lovely passages--I loved the whole chapter about Lindy in San Francisco, and all of Michael's thoughts about what it's like to have a missing child. But marital discord is the star of this book, and you won't find many places to hide from it. That said, I think Anne Tyler did a fantastic job of spreading the blame between Pauline and Michael; their flaws are truly flaws--nothing cuddly or endearing to be found--and you want to smack them both, several times, for saying exactly the wrong thing. Also, the bipolar nature of their fights ("I hate you! Just leave, why don't you? . . . Wait, where are you going? Come back!")rung true--perhaps a little too true at times. But the real evidence that I had been well and truly finessed came when a final decision is made, and thought I had finally decided that I was on Michael's side, then, surprise! Come the next chapter I was totally Team Pauline.

At the end of the day, I think it's a solid 3.5. The third person narration kept me a little distant, and while I realize that Pauline was supposed to be shrill and mercurial, at times I felt her dialogue to be cartoonish. (I also questioned the immediate acceptance of the fact that their grandchild was named Pagan. On one hand, it made me like them both a little more that they were just like "Pagan? Really? Well sure"; on the other, it didn't quite seem in character, or even an idiosynchratic out-of-character. It just felt jarring).

Ultimately, probably not a seminal novel of any kind, but well-wrought and worth a read. Also, try to read this and tell me Beatnik daughter Lindy doesn't equal Sally Draper and her inevitable hippie future. Just try.

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