The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler – a review
This is a sample:
Times had changed at the church, too. He could see that as soon as they entered. Oh, physically it was the same – dim and glimmery, smelling of wax candles – but only the very oldest mourners were in black. The others had on every colour of the rainbow, clothes they’d never have dreamed of wearing to church in his youth – T-shirts, polo shirts, khakis, sneakers. Wanda Lipska walked down the aisle dressed for a yachting trip, it looked like, in a navy blazer and white pants. Leo Kazmerow, seated one pew ahead, wore an electric-blue nylon windbreaker, and when he turned to say hello, Michael saw the emblem of a gasolene additive emblazoned on his chest pocket. “Mikey boy,” Leo said. “Look who’s here, hon,” and he nudged his wife, whom Michael had not at first recognized because she’d put on so much weight. Her back had grown as broad and beefy as a truck driver’s, and her hair – a harsh, artificial brown – was the consistency of cotton candy, so puffed up that he could see air through every wisp.
He would have introduced Anna, or reintroduced her, but just then the service started. A priest he’d never seen before stepped up to the alter and the organ changed its tone of voice, after which six weedy young boys wheeled a gleaming casket forward. These must be Mrs. Serge’s grandsons. Michael seemed to recall that Joey had had a whole swarm of children.
Imagine a book created by a hybrid of Richard Yates and Carol Shields and you’ll come quite close to an approximation of what this novel is like.
Skipping years and decades effortlessly, Tyler takes us on a tour of the marriage of Michael and Pauline, a young couple who fall in love at the outbreak of the second world war and decide to tie the knot, forgetting (or not knowing) that in order to spend a lifetime together you have to like the other person. Forgetting that love alone is not enough. Forgetting, also, that a marriage has consequences, and not only for the couple involved.
Within the marriage, Michael and Pauline are a couple who endlessly undermine each other while having no separate identities or destiny. But at the same time as describing their relationship, Anne Tyler shows us human fortitude at work, she shows us compassion and courage and the terrible vulnerabilities from which we all suffer. She works on these two like a surgeon with a knife, opening them up so that we can see inside their souls.
I suppose it is a sad book, but one that makes you turn the pages. And if it is sad it is also not depressingly so. Tyler is not a writer to linger on negativity. She gives us characters who, however socially or individually handicapped they may be, are always striving to find a workable solution, always looking for a way out of or around their dilemma, and who are always, or almost always ready for some kind of reconciliation.
On another note, reading this book reminded me of the following story: Ann Tyler was waiting with her kids at the bus stop one morning and got to chatting with another Mom. After a while, the other Mom said “So do you have a job now, or are you still just writing?”