The Amateur Marriage, Anne TylerAnne Tyler's last novel The Beginner's Goodbye is now out in paperback. I bought it in Sainsbury's for the princely sum of £3.49. Rather nice to put a great contemporary novel into your basket alongside your milk, bread and yoghurts!
That's the thing about Anne Tyler. She is a writer who is both complex and yet popular enough to be stocked in your local supermarket. I've just read The Amateur Marriage which I think is one of her finest novels. It's the story of Pauline and Michael, a couple who should never have married. There is no domestic violence, adultery or debt - the kind of things that often tear couples apart - but their marriage is toxic nonetheless and the novel examines the relentless grind of being married to an unsuitable partner.
Michael is thrifty, cautious and calm. Pauline is emotional, impulsive and sensitive. Like Maggie in Breathing Lessons and Muriel in The Accidental Tourist she can be infuriating but I found her a far more likeable character than cold fish Michael.
The novel spans several decades beginning in Baltimore's Polish community where Michael grows up, becomes engaged to Pauline and enlists. After being injured in the army they marry and raise a family. Their marriage is put under further strain by the disappearance of their wayward daughter. The implication is that she has joined the 1960's Haight-Ashbury 'summer of love' community and developed a serious drug problem. This theme of the novel reminded me a little of Unless by Carole Shields.
Eventually Michael leaves Pauline and finds (rather too quickly I thought) the kind of cool, self-contained woman who suits his character. The final chapter comes as a surprise and I'm still thinking about it, but there are hints that Michael still yearns for Pauline. Vintage Tyler.