The Amateur Marriage - Anne Tyler

Most of the depictions of marriage that I've seen (in books, movies, television, etc.) tend to portray husbands and wives as combatants. Sure, they have moments of passion and glimpses of "Oh, that's why I married you," but overall it's a battle. There's a telling line towards the end of The Amateur Marriage that may explain why this is so. Pauline, half of the titular amateur marriage, is listening to a widower talk about his late wife, about how lucky he feels that they never really fought:

She was overcome, suddenly, by a sense of boredom so heavy that she envisioned it as a vast gray fog seeping soundlessly through the room.

Good marriages, apparently, don't make for exciting entertainment. (I'm not totally convinced yet, but this may be true.) Bad marriages though—not only can they be entertaining, but they also make you feel better about your own marriage, whether by comparison or by commiserating.

Michael and Pauline meet right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and soon thereafter are married. The book isn't so much a continuous story as extended snapshots of various periods in their lives. You get what looks like a normal chapter of a book, but then the story never concludes and you find yourself ten years later, with another kid, or maybe grandkids, or a new house. It's a little disorienting at first, but it's an effective way to portray a long relationship.

Tyler is particularly good at showing the little nitpicky trivialities that we focus on, to our own irritation. The inner monologues that we carry on while having a conversation, or the way things that used to be endearing gradually become grating. It's a well-written book that really captures the feeling of each decade and the way things shift over time.

I can't really decide if I liked the book; it felt a little voyeuristic, watching the lives of this couple tangle and then unravel, but I definitely think it's worth a read.

Fed to jonathan's brain | March 24, 2005 | Comments (0)


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