The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler


The Amateur Marriage

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Were the marrieds really amateurs? The title infers that the participants may not have taken their union seriously… or perhaps they just didn’t contribute the effort required to make things work. But neither of these conclusions are the image I got from reading The Amateur Marriage.

This is the story of Michael and Pauline Anton which spans the 30 years they spent together. As the United States entered World War II, they married hastily, barely knowing each other after an accidental meeting at a war parade rally. Pauline was young, beautiful, vivacious, impulsive, friendly, and full of life. Michael- on the other hand- is quiet and reserved, unpretentious, naive, and caught off-guard by Pauline’s beauty and seductive charm.

What follows is the melancholy content of this novel. The one lesson that may be learned from this story is that life is not a dress rehearsal. You only get one chance to live it and you better make the most of it. Spending 30 years in a mis-matched marriage can be a horrible thing. But back in those days, divorce was not a socially acceptable option. So they struggled.

I have always felt that the most successful marriages were those where the spouses brought out the best in each other. One spouse can soften the others sharp edges, bring strength to the other’s weakness, and working as a team they can help each other grow. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen with Michael and Pauline. As years went by, the resentments grew, compromise was non-existent, communication was never a strong point, and you- the reader- witness the havoc spawned by this unsuccessful marriage.

On the positive side, this story is real. To some extent, life is unpredictable. Each person has their own personality and navigates through it the best they can. Some do better than others. But love is often blind and unexplainable. Sometimes there are tragic consequences. Anne Tyler depicts this with excellence.

But there are thousands of novels written about unsuccessful marriages, from Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, to D. H. Lawrence’s Son’s and Lovers, and Richard Yates Revolutionary Road… all equally tragic and beautifully written.

What I did not appreciate about The Amateur Marriage were the empty spaces, critical details missing, years skipped, and life-altering events that were ignored. It left a feeling of never having descended to the depths of the powerful emotion this type of novel is capable of evoking… for both the characters in the story AND for the interest and enjoyment of its readers.

Rated 3.5 Stars.

All contents © 2015 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.

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