The Amateur Marriage: A Novel
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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.
tantalizingly familiar mixture of frustration and bafflement swept through him, and he said, “Suit yourself.” But Sally said, “Lindy. Please. Reconsider. They’ll be desperate to see you! Couldn’t we just phone them and invite them over? Just for a little visit? A few little minutes, maybe?” “You know,” Lindy told her, “I really feel I might be about to die of tiredness. I’m sorry. You seem like a very nice person. But all I want to do is go home and go to bed. George, I left my number on your
news of Janet Witt. Janet was living out in Hollywood, California, of all places. She had married a set designer twenty years her senior. And then Wanda reported receiving a letter from Anna Grant, Pauline’s old school friend, whom Pauline herself had just about lost touch with except for Christmas cards. “Does everybody know that Anna’s pregnant?” Wanda asked. “Finally! You remember she wanted to get her music degree first, but now at long last she’s expecting—in early September, she says.”
here, it seems.” “But … you mean, she walked out? You told me she wasn’t capable of making it down the front steps!” “Oh, she had been progressing, though. She was attending our meetings; she was talking about starting over with her boy. She was moving forward, all of us thought! Now this: a willful refusal to proceed with her rebirth. It happens, sometimes. We’re never sure just why.” Becoming’s voice was mournful and slightly deeper than usual, like a record spun too slowly. Michael, on the
stamps onto the corners. Jerked out all his drawers and cleaned them, throwing away old circulars and paper clips and rubber bands and business cards. After that he went to the kitchen and cooked himself an actual, time-consuming meal. He boiled rice and he blended several canned soups and stews to form a sort of goulash that he ladled on top. He cut up vegetables for a salad—unfortunately a larger salad than he needed, once he’d combined what he’d chopped, but he ate every bit of it anyhow. He
she meant it. Over the years, she had lost her rancor toward Michael. Or maybe she’d just expended it all, worn it out with overuse. She could tell herself, nowadays, that she might very well be better off without him; for what kind of man would discard a whole marriage on the basis of one little quarrel? His problem was that he was not a forgiver. Things were so permanent, with Michael. Words once said could not be unsaid; deeds could not be undone. So there he was, stuck forever with that