Summary and book reviews of The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

The Amateur Marriage

By Anne Tyler

The Amateur Marriage
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2004,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2004,
    336 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the inimitable Anne Tyler, a rich and compelling novel about a mismatched marriage—and its consequences, spanning three generations.

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.

From the sound of the cash register in the old grocery to the counterculture jargon of the sixties, from the miniskirts to the multilayered apparel of later years, Anne Tyler captures the evocative nuances of everyday life during these decades with such telling precision that every page brings smiles of recognition. Throughout, as each of the competing voices bears witness, we are drawn ever more fully into the complex entanglements of family life in this wise, embracing, and deeply perceptive novel.

Chapter 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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  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 ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New Yorker

Although Tyler's prose occasionally slips into banality, she never falters in creating vivid characters whose weaknesses are both credible and compelling.

Miami Herald - Connie Ogle

She expertly explores the perils of marriage… Wise & observant…She has the uncanny ability to expose the most confusing contradictions of love.

Elle magazine - Kim Askew

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.

USA Today - Deirdre 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.

New York Times Book Review (front cover) - William H. Pritchard

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.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - John Freeman

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.

Baltimore Sun - Martha Southgate

Her command of what will move a story forward & engross a reader is faultless.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Library Journal - Starr E. Smith

[This] 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.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

... the usually adept Tyler ends up setting 30 years of tedious marital unhappiness and domestic tragedy against a distressingly superficial and bland accounting of the rise of suburbia and the flowering of hippie culture. Her observations about how abruptly even the most boring life can go wrong, and about the fact that we are all amateurs in our first marriages, are poignant, however, and may be enough to satisfy readers who seek safe and comfy novels.

Kirkus Reviews

Painfully accurate and painfully funny as ever, [The Amateur Marriage] traces the stormy union of two people who love but can't stand each other......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?

The Observer (UK) - Lisa Allardice

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.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

....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.

Reader Reviews
countrygirl

Anne Tyler just keeps getting better and better. The Amateur Marriage is a sometimes painful, sometimes sad, sometimes funny look into the marriage of Pauline and Michael Anton, a mismatched couple who endure a 30-year union. What I most like about...   Read More

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