THE AMATEUR MARRIAGE by Anne Tyler (Viking), 306 pages, $36 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Anne Tyler writes quiet books. That doesn't mean nothing happens or that she doesn't generate emotion. It's more that Tyler never pushes too hard. Like her best-known book, The Accidental Tourist, Tyler's latest release, The Amateur Marriage, is not an in-your-face type of novel, but it is very real. It tracks the disastrous marriage of two people who meet when they're too young, naive and driven toward being in any kind of couple to notice that they're not meant for each other.
The U.S. is in full cheerleader mode for the troops heading off to Europe for the second world war. Michael wants to impress Pauline, and Pauline finds the whole soldier thing totally romantic. Before he knows it, Michael's shipped off to war, where a stray friendly bullet during manoeuvres puts him out of commission. He returns home to Baltimore with his sort-of war wound, and he and Pauline marry, which is what sweethearts did in those days.
It's not a good match. She's carefree, he's careful. She's excitable, he's stodgy. She loves a party, he'd rather stay home. They think they've convinced everyone that everything's just fine, but their three children know better and react in their own ways to the tension. Lindy, their oldest daughter, disappears and becomes a casualty of the 60s drug culture, leaving Michael and Pauline to raise her three-year-old son.
This might have brought them closer, but it never really does, and their relationship sputters to an end
This is a simply written book about deep disappointment. After 2003's tepid offerings from Erica Jong and Jane Smiley, it's a relief find that there's still such a thing as a best-selling author who aspires to more than just going through the motions.