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The Amateur Marriage: A Novel Hardcover – January 6, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 260 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Anne Tyler's The Amateur Marriage is not so much a novel as a really long argument. Michael is a good boy from a Polish neighborhood in Baltimore; Pauline is a harum-scarum, bright-cheeked girl who blows into Michael's family's grocery store at the outset of World War II. She appears with a bloodied brow, supported by a gaggle of girlfriends. Michael patches her up, and neither of them are ever the same. Well, not the same as they were before, but pretty much the same as everyone else. After the war, they live over the shop with Michael's mother till they've saved enough to move to the suburbs. There they remain with their three children, until the onset of the sixties, when their eldest daughter runs away to San Francisco. Their marriage survives for a while, finally crumbling in the seventies. If this all sounds a tad generic, Tyler's case isn't helped by the characteristics she's given the two spouses. Him: repressed, censorious, quiet. Her: voluble, emotional, romantic. Mars, meet Venus. What marks this couple, though, and what makes them come alive, is their bitter, unproductive, tooth-and-nail fighting. Tyler is exploring the way that ordinary-seeming, prosperous people can survive in emotional poverty for years on end. She gets just right the tricks Michael and Pauline play on themselves in order to stay together: "How many times," Pauline asks herself, "when she was weary of dealing with Michael, had she forced herself to recall the way he'd looked that first day? The slant of his fine cheekbones, the firming of his lips as he pressed the adhesive tape in place on her forehead." Only in antogonism do Michael and Pauline find a way to express themselves. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

Because Tyler writes with scrupulous accuracy about muddled, unglamorous suburbanites, it is easy to underestimate her as a sort of Pyrex realist. Yes, Tyler intuitively understands the middle class's Norman Rockwell ideal, but she doesn't share it; rather, she has a masterful ability to make it bleed. Her latest novel delineates, in careful strokes, the 30-year marriage of Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay, and its dissolution. In December 1941 in St. Cassians, a mainly Eastern European conclave in Baltimore, 20-year-old Michael meets Pauline and is immediately smitten. They marry after Michael is discharged from the army, but their temperaments don't mix. For Michael, self-control is the greatest of virtues; for Pauline, expression is what makes us human. She is compulsively friendly, a bad hider of emotions, selfish in her generosity ("my homeless man") and generous in her selfishness. At Pauline's urging, the two move to the suburbs, where they raise three children, George, Karen and Lindy. Lindy runs away in 1960 and never comes back-although in 1968, Pauline and Michael retrieve Pagan, Lindy's three-year-old, from her San Francisco landlady while Lindy detoxes in a rehab community that her parents aren't allowed to enter. Michael and Pauline got married at a time when the common wisdom, expressed by Pauline's mother, was that "marriages were like fruit trees.... Those trees with different kinds of branches grafted onto the trunks. After a time, they meld, they grow together, and... if you tried to separate them you would cause a fatal wound." They live into an era in which the accumulated incompatibilities of marriage end, logically, in divorce. For Michael, who leaves Pauline on their 30th anniversary, divorce is redemption. For Pauline, the divorce is, at first, a tragedy; gradually, separation becomes a habit. A lesser novelist would take moral sides, using this story to make a didactic point. Tyler is much more concerned with the fine art of human survival in changing circumstances. The range and power of this novel should not only please Tyler's immense readership but also awaken us to the collective excellency of her career.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Tyler, Anne
  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1 edition (January 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400042070
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400042074
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (260 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,851,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read eight novels by Anne Tyler, and this is my favorite so far. How refreshing to have a writer who only improves on her own perfection.
She has taken the edgy, imperfect, exasperating moments of marriage and woven a tapestry of life and its changes in the course of a fifty-year relationship. Michael and Pauline first meet in the fervor of patriotism that swept their neighborhoods in the days immediately after Pearl Harbor. They loved, they fought, they made each other miserable, and they married. They continued to fight and make each other miserable and the love was not so easy to see. They had three children and were conflicted by their raising of them. The whole family seems to change when the oldest daughter runs away from home. The pain of that act leaves its indelible mark on all of them and things are never as good as before, though they weren't all that good before.
Anne Tyler has taken an ordinary couple and placed them in a commonplace situation like she always does. Yet she manages to make each page riveting, a can't-put-down read that involves the reader so deeply in the lives of Pauline, Michael and their family that one is reluctant to say goodbye. Surely, this outwardly ideal looking family can be "fixed." Surely the fighting will stop, Lindy will return home, and they will all live happily ever after. Surely. But, alas.....
There are ordinary moments and there are extraordinary moments in this novel, but all become riveting in the hands of the masterful Anne Tyler. Will Pauline ever achieve her ideal of marriage as an interweaving of two souls? Will Michael be happy if he can attain his view of marriage, which is two people traveling side by side but separately?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pauline and Michael met in 1941 as World War II was upon them, were infatuated with each other, hardly got acquainted before Michael goes off to fight for his country. They marry quickly, live with his mother whom he works for in the family grocery store, have two children quickly, then a third and live lives of quiet desperation. Sound familiar? Tyler maintains that this couple is mismatched and that they were amateurs about marriage. I would argue that there is a little bit of them in almost every married couple I know, that we are all "amateurs" when it comes to choosing a mate. Pauline and Michael could fit atop almost every wedding cake I've seen.
Here are more examples of Pauline and Michael as every couple. They often quarrel but are not sure why they are angry with each other. Pauline often describes their children as "my" children rather than "our" children. (I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard one spouse make that statement.) Because of what their oldest child Lindy does-- she runs away from home-- "it meant that Michael never again had a moment of pure joy." About Pauline, Michael says that "she was a good person, really. Well, and so was Michael himself, he believed. It was only that the two of them weren't nice. They weren't always very nice to each other; he couldn't explain just why." George, Pauline and Michael's son, feels that he married his mother. (How often have we heard that statement?) Michael has no hobbies. Pauline has had the same women friends for years, but has "lost the ability to pass judgment on these women. She didn't even know if she liked them, in fact, and perhaps she didn't like them, but by now it hardly mattered because how would she ever start over with somebody new, at this point?
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book so interesting and enjoyable to read. Anne Tyler is an amazing writer. It's true that sad things happen to the characters, but to me they are so real and true to themselves that everything makes sense, including the end. Unlike Hollywood movies, there are no sudden changes of heart and epiphanies that solve all the problems in an instant so that everybody can live happily ever after. Sad things do happen to people, and real people struggle with how to solve their problems. If reading this book makes some people examine their own lives a little more closely, and maybe even helps them avoid some of the same mistakes, that's great. But no lives are mistake-free, and honestly, they'd be less rich if they were. We don't get a chance to go back and do things over, and neither do Michael and Pauline. Their kids have to figure out what to make of their own lives, and yes, their parents didn't make it easy for them, but who has perfect parents? Michael & Pauline's grandson seems to survive the unkindest treatment of all and come out reasonably healthy. Even Michael and Pauline aren't bitter by the end. Maybe it's my own rose-colored glasses, but this sends a message of hope to me.
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Format: Hardcover
Righto-I've read all 130 previous reviews, and not ONE of them, pro or con, mentioned the fact that the word amateur comes from the Latin word "amare": to love. An amateur at anything used to be someone who did something because of love, whether he or she was particularly good at it or not.---I am curious as to whether some of the negative reviewers are "professionally" married and what exactly that would mean.

Life and love are sad, tragic, comical and messy. All these qualities are captured in the experience of Michael and Pauline as well as their friends, relatives and progeny. This book amply illustrates the observation of Proust, that, "We make the irrevocable decisions of our lives in states of mind destined to be transitory."

A sad, lovely, compelling read. Four stars because even I would have liked the characters to have been threshed out a bit more. As it is, they somewhat resemble minimalist skeletons. But perhaps that's Ms. Tyler's intention, to convey a reflection of how our lives seem to slip away from us so quickly.
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