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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 March 2016
Anne Tyler's Orange Prize-shortlisted 'The Amateur Marriage' tells the story of the unhappy and profoundly monotonous marriage of Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay. The couple meet during World War II. Michael is a sturdy, good-looking Polish American, with no interests or ambitions other than running the family grocery business and looking after his widowed mother. Pauline is a pretty feather-head, desperate to have a soldier boyfriend; which she gets when she persuades Michael to enlist. However, during his training, Pauline finds other soldiers to admire, and begins to wonder if she's not making a mistake. Then, Michael is wounded in a training accident, and she feels honour-bound to accept his proposal of marriage. A last ditch attempt on Pauline's part to break free (at the church, on her wedding day) ends in a moment when her friends tell her not to be so silly. So, she marries Michael, and the couple condemn each other to some thirty years and more of total misery.

As this is a later Anne Tyler novel, the misery is exceptionally low-key. All the big events either don't happen at all (Michael never makes it to fight in World War II) or happen offstage (the couple's daughter Lindy's escape into a wild drink-and-drugs-and-sex fuelled life on the West Coast in the 1960s - Tyler's much more interested in telling us about the Cheerios that Lindy's son Pagan has for breakfast). Michael and Pauline squabble and bicker in a low-key way. Pauline is tempted to have an affair with a local divorce, who she teaches to make meatloaf, but then changes her mind. Michael expresses bewilderment whenever she gets upset. Of their three children, Lindy becomes a rebel, and eventually runs away (her parents never having thought to talk to her about the reasons she is rebelling), not to be seen for many years; George, as sturdy and dependable as his father, becomes a successful businessman with little personality; and Karen, the youngest daughter, changes her name back to its Polish original and becomes a high-flying lawyer (and virtually disappears from the book, career-women not having much presence in Tyler-land in its later forms). The couple's decision to adopt Lindy's sulky little son Pagan (after Lindy vanishes) doesn't bring them closer together, and in the end Michael makes a bid for freedom - but does he really want it?

Frankly, I couldn't care. I've not hugely enjoyed any of the Anne Tyler's I've read apart from her 1982 'Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant', but this was the dullest and most irritating I've come across. The characters are not only unsympathetic, they are deadly dull. Michael is a not-very-bright bore, who, as he admits, has 'no interests, and no hobbies'. Pauline is a pretty airhead who later becomes a petulant, shrewish and ultimately vengeful housewife, and apart from a vague interest in cookery, and a rather sentimental love of children and feeding them ice-cream, appears to have few interests either, and to be pretty ineffective (much is made of her great incompetence as a driver, which I think is supposed to be funny). Lindy is a 'rebel without a cause' who undergoes an unconvincing metamorphoses to sentimental goody-goody later on - and because we never really get the story from her point of view, there's no way of telling whether the rebellion was because Michael and Pauline's unhappy marriage profoundly damaged her. George is stolid and rather sullen, Karen (apart from one of those rather sugary chapters 'told from the small child's point of view) that Tyler's tried out in later fiction, with lots of referring to 'Karen's mother said..') so absent as to have no personality (and the parents' harking endlessly on her plainness was cruel). Mother Anton is a caricature of the demanding mother-in-law (the scene where she refuses lunch because Pauline's back 20 minutes late and 'I've gone beyond hunger' tipped into farce). Of the other characters, the only one who really came to life was Pauline's friend Anna the music teacher, whose calm self-containment and devotion to work was rather attractive. But I couldn't work out what she saw in Michael!

There was also very little plot, even though the novel covered some 50 years. Much of the novel was concerned with endless domestic squabbling and unhappy family get-togethers in suburban houses. World War II, Flower Power, Vietnam and the rest were all alluded to vaguely but never played an important role in the narrative. Jobs - Karen's work as a lawyer, Pagan's as a child therapist, Lindy's later teaching career - came very much second to endless descriptions of suburban Baltimore domestica. No one apart from Anna appeared to have any passionate interests. The novel became increasingly meandering, the dramatic scene near the end invented, I felt, to bring the book to some sort of a close. And the book ended in an atmosphere of cloying sentimentality, with a lot of rubbish theorizing about how 'the first marriage is the only marriage', and a sense of 'happy families' that I feel would never have come into being for the boring and dysfunctional Antons.

I've rated this at two stars because the writing style is good and fluent - but I felt in terms of plot, character and atmosphere this was a no-goer, both patronizing and sentimental. Perhaps it's time for Tyler to find another subject other than meandering suburban marriages among the 'everyday folk' of Baltimore?
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on 28 May 2014
This story unwinds over the course of two lifetimes. Pauline and Michael are the most romantic- looking couple. Rescuing the ingenue Pauline from a very minor wound, Michael seems like a young knight in shining armour,
The fearless and pushy Pauline is everything he is not. Warm, passionate, witty, silly and superficial she knocks him off his feet.
Right from the start, her influence leads to hilarity and disaster. She assumes he is enlisting- so he does, only to return with what can only be called a bum wound, and the pronounced limp with which he is plagued for the rest of his life.
By then, the fickle Pauline has gone off him but she marries him anyway, for the romance and sport of it.
What ensues is a lifelong spat between two people who are fundamentally unsuited, locked in by love and habit.
They confound and punish each other daily. Pauline is always optimistic and sprightly, Michael stolid and suspicious.
They want different things: Pauline a modern house and a modern life, Michael, tradition and convention.
She rails and rallies against his natural grumpiness and lack of imagination, but he is usually right except in matters of their children.
When a family disaster strikes it is Pauline who knows what to do, taking care of others and providing funds of love, practicality and natural generosity.
Michael, successful grocery shop owner, is a bemused emotionally miserly bystander compared with such a vibrant and outgoing spouse. His good qualities are somehow eclipsed and altered by hers. Each diminishes the other despite their love.
The thing they have in common is their innocence and lack of insight into their family. This is a common theme for the writer and one she cleverly exposes.
The course of their lives and those of their children and grandchildren is charted in this charming and moving story.
Marriage can be an accident of life, something inevitable which should in hindsight, have been avoided.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, it has been noted.
There are more unhappy marriages than happy. As their estranged daughter Linnet remarks ' You were ice, she was glass....' only superficially similar the two do not see the collateral damage of their constant bickering and competitiveness.
Also a great insight into American family life of the 1950's; hilarious menus and recipes were of great interest to me. My personal favourite was 'Meat Loaf Orientale' a seductive collation of mince and canned noodles!
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on 2 February 2018
As in all Anne Tyler’s novels, someone walks out and is either never seen again or appears again toward the end with unsatisfactory results. Sometimes we follow the person who disappears, sometimes we spend the novel searching for them. Always there is this sense of loss. And it is the brilliance of Anne Tyler’s writing that she evokes the minutiae of relationships, how we get so miffed over trivial things and misunderstandings. Freak OutThis is a brutally real, achingly sad story of a marriage.
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on 21 November 2015
Pauline is one of Anne Tyler's annoying women - volatile, emotionally driven, "not very bright", very verbal and excitable. Michael is Polish- catholic, dour, likes a quiet life. They marry and Tyler takes us on a whirlwind tour of their relationship and family life, skipping years in between episodes. One major event involving losing and finding their daughter Lindy and grandson Pagan makes the marriage less ordinary. As usual she writes compellingly, but this book lacks hope and ultimately feels depressing.
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on 28 March 2012
I read other reviews of this book and thank goodness I wasn't put off by those who only gave it 3 and 2 stars. It was a fabulous read. Granted I'd never read anything else by this author, but I've immediately wish listed two more Anne Tyler novels.

As has been documented, it's a family saga with the main characters being a young, shy boy besotted with a vivacious young girl. From the moment they meet he is infatuated with Pauline and, on her instigation, Michael goes off to fight in the Second World War, spending his time away yearning for the day he gets back to Pauline (who, incidentally, doesn't seem to have the same commitment). But on his return she all but staggers into a steady relationship with him and, unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there! I was shouting "wrong move!" at this point.

These are a couple with very different ideas of life, but still it would seem, against all the odds, determined to make a success of their doomed marriage. But they stumble from one crisis to the next, inevitably leading to the marriage breaking down, and even though they both move on (of a fashion), there is still a strong bond between them.

Without a doubt I would recommend this book, but bear in mind it isn't a "happy ever after" ending but it is very familiar and realistic.
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on 7 May 2017
How we come to graft to another person, despite everything. Time and new love never really tear the fabric we create, no matter how much we wish it. Tender, an overview across the 20th Century of a couple and thier family. Lots more novels could spring from this- let's hope Anne Tyler reads this!
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on 5 January 2004
This is much more pessimistic and darker in tone than her previous novels, but it is a post-September 11th book and it seems to me that she has reached a new level, much as Philip Roth in his later novels. She brings her experience, maturity and exceptional writing talent to bear on the story of the lengthily disintegrating marriage of Michael and Pauline, two people whose love for each other is exceeded only by their incompatibility. With infinite skill and understanding she traces their lives from their meeting just after the attack on Pearl Harbour until the first Pearl Harbour day after the attack on the World Trade Centre. She also manages to describe various sections of Baltimore and San Francisco societies during that period with an unerring feel for the domestic details of the day. This is the work of a great writer in her prime-don't miss it.
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on 28 February 2018
Engaging writing style, yet found this story rather bland.....
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on 20 December 2009
This is one of the finest books I've ever read. Reading Ann Tyler is like eating a meal in a great restaurant - you just don't want the food to end (so maybe you take smaller mouthfuls) - I just didn't want this book to end. Whenever I read Ann Tyler's work I read a few pages at a time, and think about what I've read rather than just read the book at a sitting - just to let the characters and the words sink in. I don't know how Ann Tyler gets into the heads of men. She brings out how men and women see the same situations so differently. In my opinion this is one of her best books. The last few pages of the book are so affecting - one can feel the emotions of one of the main protagonists - I'll say no more because I wouldn't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it.
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on 31 January 2016
An excellent novel as I have come to expect from Anne Tyler. I love the quality of her writing and the way that she takes you to a small world and makes it such a fascinating place to visit. I would say this is one of her best.
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