Monthly Archives: November 2008

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

223526_f248Random House Group (Vintage), 2004. 306 pages.

my third anne tyler read, and it remains to exponentially impress. while all anne tyler books make you feel like sinking into a very familiar and warm reading couch (that makes you not want to do any other thing), it also offers a stinging dose of reality that only a good, well-meaning friend could give.

do opposites really attract? or do they initially get drawn by a passionate gravitational force, and eventually repel? “The Amateur Marriage” chronicles the 30 year marriage of Michael and Pauline Anton, whose love beginnings in 1941 just after the war broke, are known by the whole town of East Baltimore. Michael, a quiet and obedient son was doing his daily chore of helping his mother in their grocery store when WHOOSH! the beautiful typhoon known as Pauline (escorted by her girlfriends) come rushing into the grocery doors, Pauline’s eyebrow bleeding and girlfriends frantically asking for help.

That very moment, the moment that Michael Anton ever so carefully bandaged Pauline’s eyebrows and noticed her unusually azure eyes–both their lives, as they say, has never been the same again.

They marry shortly after, and the book progresses on as the years go by–caring for 3 children, the frustrations and daily rudiments of Pauline as a suburban mother and housewife, not to mention caring for her mother-in-law, a rebellious first-born daughter running away to San Francisco.

Though the pattern of their marriage spats seem to be (by the naked eye), just the usual “ups and downs” of a normal marriage, it is their clashing personalities that constantly give them a massive amount of frustration. Michael–unemotional, steady, and predictable. Pauline–passionate, emotional, temperemental.

Early on in the marriage, Michael contemplates a “what if” scenario that has carried on throughout their marriage. What if he didn’t marry such a complicated woman? Why didn’t he just settle for a less-attractive, less passionate woman? His life would have been so simple and serene, he’d always thought.  He was sure simple and quiet women would never throw saucers and cups during arguments, never walk out, never yell.

On the other hand Pauline simply cannot comprehend how Michael’s behavior is very clock-work, very robotic, and is rarely expressive–with his both his frustrations and joys. Though this has led her to a short, half-baked extra marital affair early on in the marriage, she remains to have a positive approach on the general outlook of their marriage.

And so it was on the day of their 30th wedding anniversary when, as Pauline was fondly reminiscing all their “passionate silly fights” through the years, but how they still have managed to be together all this time–through children and grandchildren–when Michael declares that No, it hasn’t been fun for him at all, in fact it had been years of HELL for him.

He makes a decision that again, changes their life after 30 years of being together.

Though this Unhappily ever after story has an obviously sad ending, it provides a good dose of reality. Only Anne Tyler can make seemingly small things big, and make it so reasonably human and close to the heart.

I would hate for this novel to be turned into a movie. Anne Tyler’s works simply must NOT be downgraded to the big screen. The emotions that only Tyler can perfectly convey in words and prose are far too rich for that.

Tyler lives in Baltimore, where all her novels are set.