The Amateur Marriage

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"They seemed like the perfect couple - young, good-looking, made for each other. The moment Pauline, a stranger to the Polish Eastern Avenue neighborhood of Baltimore (though she lived only twenty minutes away), walked into his mother's grocery store, Michael was smitten. And in the heat of World War II fervor, they are propelled into a hasty wedding. But they never should have married." Pauline, impulsive, impractical, tumbles hit-or-miss through life; Michael, plodding, cautious, judgmental, proceeds deliberately. While other young marrieds,
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Overview

"They seemed like the perfect couple - young, good-looking, made for each other. The moment Pauline, a stranger to the Polish Eastern Avenue neighborhood of Baltimore (though she lived only twenty minutes away), walked into his mother's grocery store, Michael was smitten. And in the heat of World War II fervor, they are propelled into a hasty wedding. But they never should have married." Pauline, impulsive, impractical, tumbles hit-or-miss through life; Michael, plodding, cautious, judgmental, proceeds deliberately. While other young marrieds, equally ignorant at the start, seemed to grow more seasoned, Pauline and Michael remain amateurs. In time their foolish quarrels take their toll. Even when they find themselves, almost thirty years later, loving, instant parents to a little grandson named Pagan, whom they rescue from Haight-Ashbury, they still cannot bridge their deep-rooted differences. Flighty Pauline clings to the notion that the rifts can always be patched. To the unyielding Michael, they become unbearable.
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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
Although acquaintances like to think of them as a perfect couple, Pauline and Michael are constantly bickering, sulking and fighting at home. And by cutting back and forth among the viewpoints of different characters, Ms. Tyler is able to provide a kaleidoscopic view of their marriage, and the ripple effect that their contentious relationship has on their children … an ode to the complexities of familial love, the centripetal and centrifugal forces that keep families together and send their members flying apart, the supremely ordinary pleasures and frustrations of middle-class American life.
— The New York Times
Deidre Donahue
In new novel The Amateur Marriage, Anne Tyler once again displays the qualities of wisdom, insightful writing and compassion that have made the Baltimore resident the most-admired serious yet popular writer working today. One is never embarrassed to be seen reading a Tyler novel.
— USA Today
The New Yorker
This novel of marital unhappiness focuses on a couple whose fraught relationship spans sixty years. In the early days of the Second World War, Michael and Pauline find themselves drawn together despite misgivings and bitter fights. The resulting marriage is a thirty-year clash between her impulsiveness and self-absorption and his taciturnity and barely suppressed rage. Tyler examines their acrimonious bond, which persists even after their eventual divorce, with a keen eye for the minor differences that suddenly widen into chasms. In order to illuminate every facet of the couple’s interactions and personalities, the story is told from several points of view: those of Michael and Pauline and two of their three children. Although Tyler’s prose occasionally slips into banality, she never falters in creating vivid characters whose weaknesses are both credible and compelling.
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. (Jan.) Forecast: Expect the usual blockbuster sales-there will be a first printing of 300,000. This is also likely to become one of Tyler's strongest backlist titles. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Tyler makes a strong return with this memorable exploration of personal identity within middle-class family life. Set in the author's favorite locale of Baltimore and its environs, the novel centers on the Antons, a sympathetic but mismatched couple who endure years of unhappy wedlock. The two appear well suited when they meet and fall in love at the beginning of World War II. Outgoing, enthusiastic Pauline, eager to embrace her husband's Polish American traditions, seems the perfect complement to reserved and practical Michael. Raising three children while building the family grocery business initially brings mutual satisfactions; however, neither their increasing prosperity nor a comfortable suburban home can lessen growing tensions, which become unbearable when the couple must face the consequences of a rebellious daughter's disappearance. Unlike the Ryans of Tyler's Breathing Lessons, the Antons have not forged marital bonds strong enough to endure. Their sad story, as dark and ironic as Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, is leavened by Tyler's trademark comic details, narrated with characteristic dry and witty understatement. This rewarding work is recommended for most public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/03.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Falls Church, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Painfully accurate and painfully funny as ever, Tyler's 16th novel (Back When We Were Grownups, 2001, etc.) traces the stormy union of two people who love but can't stand each other. Pauline bursts into Michael Anton's grocery store in December 1941, a bloody handkerchief pressed to the temple she wounded while impulsively jumping off a Baltimore streetcar to join an enlistment parade. In no time flat, she's persuaded Michael to join up, and they're married right after he's discharged. Three children arrive in short order, but it's not long before Michael is wondering, "Was it possible to dislike your own wife?" They're simply not good match: "Pauline tumbled through life helter-skelter while Michael proceeded deliberately . . . . Pauline believed that marriage was an interweaving of souls, while Michael viewed it as two people traveling side by side but separately." She sweeps him off to the suburbs and eventually gets him to move the family grocery store out there too; Michael always ends up doing what she wants while quietly resenting her moods, her enthusiasms, her recklessness. Pauline in turn is infuriated by "his rigidity, his caution, his literal-mindedness . . . his stodginess in bed, his magical ability to make her seem hysterical." Tyler beautifully delineates both spouses' perspectives throughout her episodic narrative, which drops in on the highlights of the Anton's 30-year marriage and the 20-year aftermath of their divorce. (A good technique, except for the terrible mistake of having the story's most vivid character die offstage.) Flashes of tenderness and genuine love serve to underscore the sad fact that they simply aren't suited, and cogent portraits of their childrenreveal the emotional damage they inflicted. Alive as always to life's messy ambiguities, Tyler declines to reach a final conclusion about this "amateur marriage," closing with a lovely image of Pauline's face lighting up with joy as her husband approaches-but it's just in Michael's imagination. So smart, so sensitive, so readable and engaging. Is it churlish to suggest that an author obviously at the peak of her powers should broaden her horizons and push herself a little harder the next time out? First printing of 300,000. Agent: Tim Seldes/Russell & Volkening
From the Publisher
“An ode to the complexities of familial love, the centripetal and centrifugal forces that keep families together and send their members flying apart, the supremely ordinary pleasures and frustrations of middle-class American life.”
—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"Tyler ranges over 60 years of American experience… from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the anniversary of that day in 2001…as she tracks one couple’s domestic disturbances…[Her] writing is beautifully accurate, more often than not with a glinting vein of humor.”
–William H. Pritchard, New York Times Book Review, front cover

“She evokes the entire sweep of [a marriage] with uncommon delicacy & dignity… gives us the feeling of being inside Michael and Pauline Anton’s marriage.”
–John Freeman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“She traces the stormy union of two people who love but can’t stand each other.”
Kirkus Reviews

“This ‘wickedly good’ author has come to represent the best of today’s American literature… She is an exquisite chronicler of the everyday
…Her characters are at once infuriating and endearing, conservative yet quietly eccentric.”
–Lisa Allardice, The Observer, London

“Her command of what will move a story forward & engross a reader is faultless.”
–Martha Southgate, Baltimore Sun

“She expertly explores the perils of marriage… Wise & observant…She has the uncanny ability to expose the most confusing contradictions of love.” –Connie Ogle, Miami Herald

“In the fervor of WWII, Michael and Pauline rush head-long into marriage, then live in a constant state of turmoil …We watch safely from a distance like a busybody neighbor hiding behind the curtains, judgmental yet fascinated.”
–Kim Askew, Elle magazine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345472458
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/31/2006
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 4.19 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis in 1941 but grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. This is Anne Tyler's sixteenth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore.

Biography

Anne Tyler has had a very active imagination all her life. When she was a young girl, she would spend an hour or two after being put to bed every night fantasizing that she was a doctor. She imagined conversations with patients, and pictured their lives as she did so, considering both their illnesses and the intricacies of their backgrounds. She constructed little mental plays around these characters that she would whisper to herself in the dark -- much to the chagrin of her brother, with whom she shared a room. "[H]e used to call out to our parents, ‘Anne's whispering again!'" she once told Barnes & Noble.com. As much as she may have vexed her brother, she also believes that these fantasies helped her to develop into the beloved, award-winning novelist she is today.

Tyler's work is characterized by a meticulous attention to detail, a genuine love of her characters, and a quirky sense of humor. Her public persona is characterized by its own quirks, as well. She refuses to grant face-to-face interviews. She has never publicly read from any of her books. She does not do book signings or tours. All of this has lent a certain mystique to her novels, although Tyler has said that her reluctance to become a public figure status is actually the result of simple shyness, not to mention her desire for her writing to speak for itself. Fortunately, Anne Tyler's work speaks with a clear, fully-realized voice that does not require unnecessary elucidation by the writer.

Tyler published her first novel If Morning Ever Comes in 1964, and that singular voice was already in place. This astute debut that tracks the self-realization of a young man named Ben Joe Hawkins displayed Tyler's characteristic wit and gentle eccentricity right off the bat. Harper's declared the novel "a triumph," and Tyler was on her way to creating an impressive catalog of novels chronicling the every day hopes, fears, dreams, failures, and victories of small-town Americans. Having come of age, herself, in rural North Carolina, Tyler had particular insight into the lives of her characters. Each novel was a little shimmering gem, winning her a devoted following and public accolades that more than compensated for her refusal to appear in public. Her novel Earthly Possessions, the story of a housewife who is taken hostage by a young man during a bank robbery, was released the same year she won an award for "literary excellence and promise of important work to come" from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The book also went on to become a television movie starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff in 1999.

However, the most well-known adaptation of one of Tyler's novels arrived more than a decade earlier when The Accidental Tourist was made into an Academy Award winning film starring Geena Davis and William Hurt. Consequently, The Accidental Tourist is viewed by some as Tyler's signature novel, covering many of the writer's favorite themes: the push and pull of marriage, the appearance of a romantic eccentric, personal tragedy, and the quest to escape from the drudgery of routine. The Accidental Tourist won the National Book Critics Circle Award and hit number one on The New York Times Bestseller list.

Three years later, Tyler received the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons, which further explored themes of marriage and self-examination. Despite having won the prestigious Pulitzer, Tyler still refused to allow herself to be drawn into the spotlight. Quietly, contemplatively, she chose to continue publishing a sequence of uniformly fine novels, including Saint Maybe, Ladder of Years, and The Amateur Marriage.

Anne Tyler's novel Digging to America reexamines many of her chief obsessions, while also possibly drawing upon a personal triumph -- her marriage to Iranian psychiatrist and novelist Taghi Mohammad Modarressi -- and the tragedy of his death in 1997. Digging to America follows the relationship between two families, the Iranian Yazdans and the all-American Donaldsons, as they become closer and closer and affect each other deeper and deeper over a succession of years. Digging to America is arguably Tyler's deepest and most profound work to date. It also delivers more of her peculiar brand of humor, which will surely please her longtime fans, thrilled that she continues spinning tales with the trademark attention to character that has distinguished her stories ever since she was a little girl, whispering to herself in the dark. Tyler may have decided to remain in the dark and out of the public eye, but the stories she has to tell have shed more than their share of light on the lives of her readers.

Good To Know

Tyler first began writing stories at the innocent age of seven. At the time, most of her yarns involved, as she has said, "lucky, lucky girls who got to go west in covered wagons."

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    1. Hometown:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 25, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Duke University, 1961

Read an Excerpt

1.
Common Knowledge

Anyone in the neighborhood could tell you how Michael and Pauline first met.

It happened on a Monday afternoon early in December of 1941. St. Cassian was its usual poky self that day—a street of narrow East Baltimore row houses, carefully kept little homes intermingled with shops no bigger than small parlors. The Golka twins, identically kerchiefed, compared cake rouges through the window of Sweda’s Drugs. Mrs. Pozniak stepped out of the hardware store with a tiny brown paper bag that jingled. Mr. Kostka’s Model-B Ford puttered past, followed by a stranger’s sleekly swishing Chrysler Airstream and then by Ernie Moskowicz on the butcher’s battered delivery bike.

In Anton’s Grocery—a dim, cram-packed cubbyhole with an L-shaped wooden counter and shelves that reached the low ceiling—Michael’s mother wrapped two tins of peas for Mrs. Brunek. She tied them up tightly and handed them over without a smile, without a “Come back soon” or a “Nice to see you.” (Mrs. Anton had had a hard life.) One of Mrs. Brunek’s boys—Carl? Paul? Peter? they all looked so much alike—pressed his nose to the glass of the penny-candy display. A floorboard creaked near the cereals, but that was just the bones of the elderly building settling deeper into the ground.

Michael was shelving Woodbury’s soap bars behind the longer, left-hand section of the counter. He was twenty at the time, a tall young man in ill-fitting clothes, his hair very black and cut too short, his face a shade too thin, with that dark kind of whiskers that always showed no matter how often he shaved. He was stacking the soap in a pyramid, a base of five topped by four, topped by three . . . although his mother had announced, more than once, that she preferred a more compact, less creative arrangement.

Then, tinkle, tinkle! and wham! and what seemed at first glance a torrent of young women exploded through the door. They brought a gust of cold air with them and the smell of auto exhaust. “Help us!” Wanda Bryk shrilled. Her best friend, Katie Vilna, had her arm around an unfamiliar girl in a red coat, and another girl pressed a handkerchief to the red-coated girl’s right temple. “She’s been hurt! She needs first aid!” Wanda cried.

Michael stopped his shelving. Mrs. Brunek clapped a hand to her cheek, and Carl or Paul or Peter drew in a whistle of a breath. But Mrs. Anton did not so much as blink. “Why bring her here?” she asked. “Take her to the drugstore.”

“The drugstore’s closed,” Katie told her.

“Closed?”

“It says so on the door. Mr. Sweda’s joined the Coast Guard.”

“He’s done what?”

The girl in the red coat was very pretty, despite the trickle of blood running past one ear. She was taller than the two neighborhood girls but slender, more slightly built, with a leafy cap of dark-blond hair and an upper lip that rose in two little points so sharp they might have been drawn with a pen. Michael came out from behind the counter to take a closer look at her. “What happened?” he asked her—only her, gazing at her intently.

“Get her a Band-Aid! Get iodine!” Wanda Bryk commanded. She had gone through grade school with Michael. She seemed to feel she could boss him around.

The girl said, “I jumped off a streetcar.”

Her voice was low and husky, a shock after Wanda’s thin vio- lin notes. Her eyes were the purple-blue color of pansies. Michael swallowed.

“A parade’s begun on Dubrowski Street,” Katie was telling the others. “All six of the Szapp boys are enlisting, haven’t you heard? And a couple of their friends besides. They’ve got this banner—‘Watch out, Japs! Here come the Szapps!’—and everyone’s seeing them off. They’ve gathered such a crowd that the traffic can’t hardly get through. So Pauline here—she was heading home from work; places are closing early—what does she do? Jumps off a speeding streetcar to join in.”

The streetcar couldn’t have been speeding all that fast, if traffic was clogged, but nobody pointed that out. Mrs. Brunek gave a sympathetic murmur. Carl or Paul or Peter said, “Can I go, Mama? Can I? Can I go watch the parade?”

“I just thought we should try and support our boys,” Pauline told Michael.

He swallowed again. He said, “Well, of course.”

“You’re not going to help our boys any knocking yourself silly,” the girl with the handkerchief said. From her tolerant tone, you could see that she and Pauline were friends, although she was less attractive—a brown-haired girl with a calm expression and eyebrows so long and level that she seemed lacking in emotion.

“We think she hit her head against a lamppost,” Wanda said, “but nobody could be sure in all the fuss. She landed in our laps, just about, with Anna here a ways behind her. I said, ‘Jeepers! Are you okay?’ Well, somebody had to do something; we couldn’t just let her bleed to death. Don’t you people have Band-Aids?”

“This place is not a pharmacy,” Mrs. Anton said. And then, pursuing an obvious connection,

“Whatever got into Nick Sweda? He must be thirty-five if he’s a day!” Michael, meanwhile, had turned away from Pauline to join his mother behind the counter—the shorter, end section of the counter where the cash register stood. He bent down, briefly disappeared, and emerged with a cigar box. “Bandages,” he explained.

Not Band-Aids, but old-fashioned cotton batting rolled in dark-blue tissue the exact shade of Pauline’s eyes, and a spool of white adhesive tape, and an oxblood-colored bottle of iodine. Wanda stepped forward to take them; but no, Michael unrolled the cotton himself and tore a wad from one corner. He soaked the wad with iodine and came back to stand in front of Pauline. “Let me see,” he said.

There was a reverent, alert silence, as if everyone understood that this moment was significant—even the girl with the handkerchief, the one Wanda had called Anna, although Anna could not have known that Michael Anton was ordinarily the most reserved boy in the parish. She removed the handkerchief from Pauline’s temple. Michael pried away a petal of Pauline’s hair and started dabbing with the cotton wad. Pauline held very still.

The wound, it seemed, was a two-inch red line, long but not deep, already closing. “Ah,” Mrs. Brunek said. “No need for stitches.”

“We can’t be sure of that!” Wanda cried, unwilling to let go of the drama.

But Michael said, “She’ll be fine,” and he tore off a new wad of cotton. He plastered it to Pauline’s temple with a crisscross of adhesive tape.

Now she looked like a fight victim in a comic strip. As if she knew that, she laughed. It turned out she had a dimple in each cheek. “Thanks very much,” she told him. “Come and watch the parade with us.”

He said, “All right.”

Just that easily.

“Can I come too?” the Brunek boy asked. “Can I, Mama? Please?”

Mrs. Brunek said, “Ssh.”

“But who will help with the store?” Mrs. Anton asked Michael.

As if he hadn’t heard her, he turned to take his jacket from the coat tree in the corner. It was a schoolboy kind of jacket—a big, rough plaid in shades of gray and charcoal. He shrugged himself into it, leaving it unbuttoned. “Ready?” he asked the girls.

The others watched after him—his mother and Mrs. Brunek, and Carl or Paul or Peter, and little old Miss Pelowski, who chanced to be approaching just as Michael and the four girls came barreling out the door. “What . . .?” Miss Pelowski asked. “What on earth . . .? Where . . .?”

Michael didn’t even slow down. He was halfway up the block now, with three girls trailing him and a fourth one at his side. She clung to the crook of his left arm and skimmed along next to him in her brilliant red coat.

Even then, Miss Pelowski said later, she had known that he was a goner.

“Parade” was too formal a word, really, for the commotion on Dubrowski Street. It was true that several dozen young men were walking down the center of the pavement, but they were still in civilian clothes and they made no attempt to keep in step. The older of John Piazy’s sons wore John’s sailor cap from the Great War. Another boy, name unknown, had flung a regulation Army blanket around his shoulders like a cape. It was a shabby, straggly, unkempt little regiment, their faces chapped, their noses running in the cold.

Even so, people were enthusiastic. They waved homemade signs and American flags and the front page of the Baltimore Sun. They cheered at speeches—any speeches, any rousing phrases shouted over their heads. “You’ll be home by New Year’s, boys!” a man in earmuffs called, and “New Year’s Day! Hurray!” zigzagged through the crowd.

When Michael Anton showed up with four girls, everybody assumed he was enlisting too. “Go get ’em, Michael!” someone shouted. Though John Piazy’s wife said, “Ah, no. It would be the death of his mother, poor soul, with all she’s had to suffer.”

One of the four girls, the one in red, asked, “Will you be going, Michael?” An outsider, she was, but very easy on the eyes. The red of her coat brought out the natural glow of her skin, and a bandage on her temple made her look madcap and rakish. No wonder Michael gave her a long, considering stare before he spoke.

“Well,” he said finally, and then he kind of hitched up his shoulders. “Well, naturally I will be!” he said.

A ragged cheer rang out from everyone standing nearby, and another of the girls—Wanda Bryk, in fact—pushed him forward until he had merged with the young men in the street. Leo Kazmerow walked on his left; the four girls scurried along the sidewalk on his right. “We love you, Michael!” Wanda cried, and Katie Vilna called, “Come back soon!” as if he were embarking for the trenches that very instant.

Then Michael was forgotten. He was swept away, and other young men replaced him: Davey Witt, Joe Dobek, Joey Serge. “You go show those Japs what we’re made of!” Davey’s father was shouting. For after all, a man was saying, who could tell when they’d have another chance to get even over Poland? An old woman was crying. John Piazy was telling everybody that neither one of his sons knew the meaning of the word “fear.” And several people were starting in on the where-were-you-when-you-heard discussion. One had not heard till that morning; he’d been burying his mother. One had heard first thing, the first announcement on the radio, but had dismissed it as another Orson Welles hoax. And one, a woman, had been soaking in the bathtub when her husband knocked on the door. “You’re never going to believe this,” he’d called. “I just sat there,” she said. “I just sat and sat. I sat until the water got cold.”

Wanda Bryk returned with Katie Vilna and the brown-haired girl, but not the girl in red. The girl in red had vanished. It seemed she’d marched off to war with Michael Anton, somebody said.

They did all notice—those in the crowd who knew Michael. It was enough of a surprise so they noticed, and remarked to each other, and remembered for some time afterward.

Word got out, the next day, that Leo Kazmerow had been rejected because he was color-blind. Color-blind! people said. What did color have to do with fighting for your country? Unless maybe he couldn’t recognize the color of someone’s uniform. If he was aiming his gun in battle, say. But everyone agreed that there were ways to get around that. Put him on a ship! Sit him behind a cannon and show him where to shoot!

This conversation took place in Anton’s Grocery. Mrs. Anton was answering the phone, but as soon as she hung up, someone asked, “And what’s the news of Michael, Mrs. Anton?”

“News?” she said.

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Reading Group Guide

Our Book Club Recommendation
Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler -- one of the foremost literary chroniclers of relationships -- takes readers into territory at once familiar and new with The Amateur Marriage. In this penetrating look at a relationship gone slowly wrong, she presents reading groups with a memorable opportunity to discuss the complexities of love, and the emotional price which mutual misunderstanding can bring. But more than that, Tyler's rendering of a fractured relationship reveals humor, beauty, and deep devotion even within a family that might be a textbook example of "dysfunctional."

Much of the power of Tyler's story comes from the way she follows Michael and Pauline Anton -- the amateurs of the title -- down through the postwar decades that follow their youthful meeting in the heady days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Capturing the sense of both uncertainty and exhilaration that characterized the mood of the nation, Tyler relates how the careful, methodical Michael encounters impulsive, sparky Pauline at a moment when their very different personalities seem to pull them toward one another -- though later it will be those same differences that drive them apart. Without ever betraying or abusing one another, they nevertheless embark on courses that result in a greater and greater sense of separation.

As Michael and Pauline mature, raise a family, move to the suburbs, and grow steadily more perplexed by one another's stubborn characters, we watch as the cultural changes of the 1960s transform the American cultural landscape -- and when their oldest daughter runs away, the Antons confront the world of drugs and youth culture with a suddenness that strips them of a layer of self-protective denial. Though they forge on together, Michael and Pauline are changed by their loss; when the breaking point unexpectedly comes, it's both a relief and a tragedy. Reading groups will be moved to discuss the ways these two powerful personalities both support and fail one another, and how The Amateur Marriage leads us to see this unhappy union from both perspectives.

Book clubs will also find that Tyler's two-sided approach, in which the narrative moves back and forth between the perspectives of Pauline and Michael, to be revelatory. And woven in between the sections devoted to these two are chapters told from the points of view of their children. In so doing, Tyler suggests that this battle of wills does not dissolve when the principals stop arguing. Rather, it has a life of its own and has shaped their children's personalities and futures, for good and for bad. Readers will discover that Tyler has offered a novel without a hero or a villain, one that nevertheless brilliantly comprehends the extremes of pain and happiness that comprise an "ordinary" family's life.

Discussion Questions from the Publisher

1. What is noticeable about the narrative voice in the first chapter? At the end of the chapter the narrator states, “They were such a perfect couple. They were taking their very first steps on the amazing journey of marriage, and wonderful adventures were about to unfold in front of them” (p. 34). Whose voice is this meant to be? Why is the chapter called “Common Knowledge”?

2. How does the presence of Mrs. Anton affect Michael and Pauline’s marriage? What has made Mrs. Anton so dependent on her son? Is Michael unfair to Pauline in expecting her to care for his mother? Who is Michael more obligated to—his mother or his wife?

3. How is Pauline’s flirtation with Alex Barrow related to the letters she sent Michael while he was away in the army (pp. 54–55)? What does the reader learn about her character in the chapter called “The Anxiety Committee”? Would someone like Alex Barrow have been a better choice for Pauline? What goes through her mind as she sits downstairs alone? Why does she decide not to go out and meet him that night?

4. In its early chapters, The Amateur Marriage gives readers a view of life in an ethnic working-class neighborhood in Baltimore. Later, the setting shifts to a newly built suburb, where the family gradually moves into the middle class. What are the effects of this shift on the family? How does Anton’s experience reflect a change in American family life in the postwar decades?

5. Michael thinks of Pauline as “a frantic, impossible woman, so unstable, even in good moods, with her exultant voice and glittery eyes, her dangerous excitement” (p. 167). Meanwhile Pauline “chafed daily at . . . his rigidity, his caution, his literal-mindedness . . . his reluctance to spend money, his suspicion of anything unfamiliar, his tendency to pass judgment . . . [and] his magical ability to make her seem hysterical” (p. 75). Does the narrative present us with a more positive view of Michael or of Pauline? Who is the more sympathetic character?

6. Pauline enters Michael’s life in a vivid red coat, bleeding because she jumped impulsively from a streetcar to join a parade (pp. 3–5). Does the report of her death in a car accident years later (pp. 275–76) imply that Pauline hasn’t changed? Why does Tyler frame Pauline’s presence in the novel with two accidents?

7. As he posed in the photography studio for a fifteenth-anniversary portrait with Pauline, Michael remembers thinking, “Who was this woman? What did she have to do with him? How could they be expected to share a house, rear children together, combine their separate lives for all time? The knob of her shoulder pressing into his armpit had felt like an inanimate object” (p. 137). The photograph shows “Mr. and Mrs. Perfectly Fine. . . . An advertisement for marriage” (p. 137). Are these thoughts an indication that, for Michael at least, the marriage is doomed? How does this photograph relate to the double portrait described on p. 172? What distinction is Tyler making between the public and private aspects of married life?

8. Reflecting on his marriage, Michael imagines that “all those young marrieds of the war years” have grown “wise and seasoned and comfortable in their roles, until only he and Pauline remained, as inexperienced as ever—the last couple left in the amateurs’ parade” (p. 168). He felt they were “more like brother and sister than husband and wife. This constant elbowing and competing, jockeying for position, glorying in I-told-you-so” (p. 168). How common are the problems that Michael and Pauline experience in their relationship? Is Michael correct in thinking that he and Pauline are unusual in their long-standing “amateur marriage”?

9. Do Michael and Pauline handle their trip to San Francisco well or badly? Why do they take Pagan home without pursuing their attempt to bring Lindy home as well? Why do they never go back and try again? Does the episode suggest that they are both fundamentally passive and ineffectual people? Or does it suggest, on the other hand, that they are realistic and know how to protect themselves from grief?

10. How is the narrative organized, and how do the chapters handle the flow of time? What is achieved in the structure that Tyler has chosen for this novel? Does the narrative point of view tend to illuminate the thoughts of all characters equally? If not, into which characters are we are given more insight and access?

11. In what ways does Tyler distinguish herself from other contemporary novelists you have read? Look closely at a few favorite passages and discuss how she achieves the effects of style, humor, and insight that make her work so enjoyable.

12. “Time,” Anne Tyler has said, “has always been a central obsession of mine—what it does to people, how it can constitute a plot all on its own.”* Does Michael’s decision to leave the marriage after thirty years, and his careful courtship of Anna, reveal a desire to redeem lost time? How is his relationship with Anna different from his first marriage? Why doesn’t Pauline remarry?

13. How surprising is the reappearance of Lindy? Why has Lindy never tried to contact Pagan before this? Is her return to the story satisfying or not?

14. To Lindy, the family was like “an animal caught in a trap. . . . Just the five of us in this wretched, tangled knot, inward-turned, stunted, like a trapped fox chewing its own leg off” (p. 300). Does Tyler suggest that such a feeling is natural when people feel alienated from their families or misunderstood by them? What might Michael and Pauline have done differently? Is their helplessness in the face of Lindy’s unhappiness their own fault, or does the novel suggest that there is a limit to what parents can feel responsible for?

15. How are George and Karen affected in their development by the disappearance of Lindy and by their parents’ troubled marriage? Does Tyler suggest that children become themselves in spite of, or in reaction to, family stresses?

16. Anne Tyler has said, “My fondest hope for any of my novels is that readers will feel, after finishing it, that for a while they have actually stepped inside another person’s life and come to feel related to that person.”* Does The Amateur Marriage achieve this goal?

Suggested Reading
John Cheever, The Stories of John Cheever; Michael Cunningham, The Hours; Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary; Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections; Rohinton Mistry, Family Matters; Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage; Reynolds Price, Kate Vaiden; Philip Roth, American Pastoral; Richard Russo, Empire Falls; Dani Shapiro, Family History; Carol Shields, Unless; Mona Simpson, Anywhere but Here; Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children; Eudora Welty, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 47 )
Rating Distribution

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4 Star

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2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 47 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 9, 2010

    Unforgettable

    It is so hard to end a book like Amatuer Marriage. Following these young people thru life, and getting to know the family, with all there faults just like us, it was difficult to get to the end. Very emotional, and hard to say goodbye. Highly recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2004

    A SIMPLE ANSWER

    All we want to know from a customer review is: do you like it or not? So do I like it? Yes! Emphatically!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2012

    Good Anne Tyler read

    I love the character development that Anne Tyler has in her books and this was no exception - people that you can identify in your own life..maybe even you.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    One of Anne Tyler's Best Books

    This story tells the evolution of a marriage over the span of 60 years, starting when the couple first meets during World War II. The main characters get caught up in the hysteria of the war end up together, despite their incompatibility. At times the story is both touching and heartbreaking. It is definitely worth the read!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Amateur to Non-Expert

    In this novel by Anne Tyler two attractive young people rush into marriage at the beginning of World War II. Over the years they experience the same things as their friends but can't seem to mend differences unlike other couples. When they finally move to an upscale neighborhood only Pauline (the wife) is happy; Michael misses his friends and the area where he grew up. Too soon they find themselves responsible for a grandchild but instead of this drawing them closer it broadens the gap between them. A return trip to the old neighborhood some thirty years later finally convinces Michael that you can't go home to the same things you once knew.

    In this book author Anne Tyler rounds out her characters with such depth that this reader felt on an intimate basis with them. While the story touches on everyday aspects that everyone will recognize, the characters are sure to evoke a sense of rightness with the way they are brought to life.

    A pleasure to read. Recommended: all of Anne Tyler's other works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2006

    So what!

    I am not sure what Tyler was trying to accomplish with this book. It was a common portrayal of a common family. The prose wasn't even interesting. Very disappointing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2006

    Best Anne Tyler I've Read

    I found so much in this book that I could identify with - my parents, my early life, parts of my own history (which dates back to 1948). The characters and situations were real and easy to follow. Couldn't put the book down! Outstanding and recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2005

    A little slow and boring

    I felt that this book was pretty boring and lost interest after the 1st half. I guess I expected more action, more romance, more something....it is fast read and made me contemplate my own marriage which was a bonus.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2005

    An Interesting Novel

    'The Amateur Marriage' is the first novel I have read of Anne Tyler's and I found the story to be very captivating. Each chapter brings you to a different time, beginning in the year 1941 and ending three generations later. The story had many ups, downs, twists and turns to the lives of the main characters, Michael and Pauline. Everything in Michael and Pauline's life would be perfect one moment, then unbearable to cope with the next. I grew up in the third generation of this story, so reading about the styles of living in my grandparent's generation was fascinating. Tyler describes the challenging obstacles encountered in this mistaken marriage. With all the dramatic literature and emotional tension, 'The Amateur Marriage,' is a novel to remember! I look forward to reading the earlier novels by Anne Tyler.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2005

    great read

    I'm a great fan of Anne Tyler and look foward to every new book she writes.The Amateur Marriage was a great read ,I couldn't put it down, I found this novel a tad more serious than her other querky novels although given the subjects she deals with in this novel the tone is appropiate .Again wonderful writng as usual and I look forward to her next book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2004

    Bildungsroman meets romance novel.

    This book was terrific. I started it on an airplane, and I was so enthusiastic about it, I barely even watched the in-flight movie!!! You could read it in one sitting if you were very ambitious.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2004

    good not great

    With a turgidity, Anne Tyler attacks her lean, tired middle class characters and their plummet through life. There is too much of a workman like quality to the prose. Still the dialogue is perfect and the portraits every bit as good as anything Ansel Adams might have done with a touch of shrooms in his system.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2004

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

    This book was completely BORING...unlikeable characters, boring pace...I NEVER stop reading a book but I finally skimmed the last two chapters just to be done...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2004

    Unlikeable People

    The only reason I gave this book two stars was for the historical timeline. I don't think I have ever read a book so full of unlikeable people. I did finish the book but only because I was certain at some point the book would 'come together'. It never did. This is the first book I have read of Anne Tyler's. It will probably be the last.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2004

    Anne Tyler is still the best writer out there.

    I have read reviews by readers like me. It seems that most of them did not like this novel. I have been reading Anne Tyler since 1988 and have read all her novels. I just can't stop reading her books, no matter if one is not as powerful as the other. I will always read everything she writes. I don't even have to read reviews. She is a genius and my favorite writer after Charles Dickens. I even went to Roland Park when I found out it really existed. If you read her books, you will know that she sets all of them in Baltimore. I am not overstating things when I say that her books have always cheered me up, kept me interested and made me happy. I hope she writes for many more years to come. I read her latest in three days. I can never put her books down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2004

    dull marriage

    If you want to read about the duldrums of an ordinary dull marriage---enjoy. However life is far from this simple--the unwritten thoughts of the subjects would create a far-more-truthful look at what it takes to keep a marriage alive.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2004

    I don't understand how this could be a bestseller...

    This book was hum-drum. I'm sorry I wasted the money on a hard cover. I did not find one sentence that I found so insightful that I had to write it down (a habit of mine). It is not eloquently written nor was the story particularly poignant. The only sub-plot that was fascinating was Lindy's disappearance. Her return, decades later, was simply unplausible...she would have returned many years sooner. A child named 'Pagan'...how ridiculous and totally scripted (drug mother in Haight-Asbury). The change of point of view was distressing. During the 'grilled cheese' scene it suddenly switched to Karen but she never returned. George's point of view didn't exist until the end when he lamented, 'Wasn't I enough to keep you here?' We were never given the impression that Lindy and George were that close. Ever. The fact that Pauline wasn't there for Lindy's reunion was a disappointment. She was the one who keep Lindy ALIVE. This read was truly a disappointment and leads me to think, Why is this a bestseller?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2004

    tender and insightful

    I loved this book. It is so much more than the story of two mismatched individuals who get married in haste. The attachment Michael and Pauline have to one another, even years after they ultimately divorce, is beautifully expressed. The tragedy is of two people who are unable to understand each other and communicate with each other. In spite of all the turmoil the ties between these two cannot be broken. The last chapter is everything: sweet, sad, sentimental. Following these two from age 20 to age 80 made me so aware of my own inevitable aging, and the bittersweet reality of life's constant changing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2004

    I kept waiting for the book to get interesting . . . .

    BORING! As I began each chapter, I was confident that the story was either (a) going to get interesting or (b) going to reveal its purpose. Unfortunately, I reached the end of the book without either happening.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2004

    Baltimore Blues

    I like Tyler, I like most of her books but from page 1 till the ending I was depressed. I couldn't get in synch w/ anyone, just made the world look ugly.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 47 Customer Reviews

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