Anne Tyler, Author, Book review, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting, USA, Vintage

‘The Amateur Marriage’ by Anne Tyler


Fiction – paperback; Vintage (exclusive edition for Red magazine); 306 pages; 2005.

What is it that makes a marriage work? How much give and how much take is acceptable? Should each partner have a diametrically opposed personality to balance things out? Or is it better to be compatible in temperament and attitude?

What happens to the children if things go wrong? And to what extent does the state of our parent’s marriage reflect our own personalities and attitudes?

These questions — and so many more — form the backbone of this astonishingly perceptive and near-perfect novel by Anne Tyler.

The Amateur Marriage spans three generations of one family living in suburban Baltimore. It charts the course of one couple’s life together, beginning with their whirlwind war-time romance, marriage, children and then, unsurprisingly, their divorce some 30 years later. This is not a match made in heaven.

Michael Anton, the son of Polish immigrants, is plodding, cautious,  thorough and little on the dull side, while Pauline is good-looking, gregarious, spontaneous and slightly scatty. Michael is content to run his mother’s grocery store over which they live, but Pauline wants so much more, including a new house in the suburbs to bring up their young family.

Their life is filled with spats, hurtful off-the-cuff remarks and very little kindness. It is obvious that they are both seeking something that their opposite number cannot provide but fail to find a way out of their predicament: this is an era in which counselling is not an option.

It is not until their eldest child, 17-year-old Lindy, runs away from home that the cracks in their marriage begin to take their toll: Pauline thinks the rifts can be patched but Michael’s dogged stubbornness will not yield. When they later inherit a grandchild they did not know existed they muddle through until Michael, unable to take his wife’s unpredictable moods any longer, walks out…

But there is much more to this story than this perceptive and oh-so true dissection of a marriage. It’s also a story about family relationships,  the ties between siblings and how we cling to the past to make sense of the future.

Quite akin to Tyler’s highly acclaimed (and my personal favourite) Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, it reveals how the little things — everyday routines, conversations and decisions — make up the bigger picture of our lives. It’s a very knowing novel, incisive and tuned-in to what makes ordinary people tick, and for that reason Tyler’s cast of characters and their individual behaviours seem completely believable: the Anton’s could, indeed, be your next-door neighbours.

If you are looking for a thoughtful, intelligent, page-turning read that centres on family life, provides a good dose of tragedy tempered by comedy (the humour is particularly endearing), then The Amateur Marriage should fit the bill perfectly.

11 thoughts on “‘The Amateur Marriage’ by Anne Tyler”

  1. Glad you enjoyed this book Kim. I really liked it too, though I found the first chapter a bit too slow, or something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The rest of the book though, I loved.


  2. I love just about anything Anne Tyler writes. If anybody comes across her knitting patterns I’d be glad to look them over too. No but seriously, I think she’s wonderful – everything you could want in a writer – insight, accessibility, humour and poignancy.


  3. I tried to listen to this on CD and just didn’t get anywhere with it. Perhaps it is one of those that is better read than listened too. I’ll give it another chance.


  4. Thanks all, it’s certainly a great book by a great author.
    Sharon, hmmm, I’m not a big fan of audio books, so obviously I’m going to say it’s better to read it than listen to it. Let me know how you get on…


  5. I just read this and I was blown away by the story. It was all so… real. Fantastic. 5 stars alright! I’m looking forward to reading more of Tyler’s work.


  6. Tyler is perhaps my favourite author and I think I’ve read everything she’s published. “thoughtful, intelligent, page-turning” – exactly. My favourite is A Patchwork Planet – oh and yes, Ladder of Years. Her new novel comes out in August and I’ve pre-ordered it.


  7. There’s a new Anne Tyler in the offing?? Wow. Must get my hands on a copy. I’ve pretty much read all her stuff too; my favourite is The Accidental Tourist, closely followed by Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.


  8. Yes, Anne Tyler is an absolutely wonderful writer. I’ve read nearly everything she has written. Some of her very early work such as “Searching for Caleb” and “If Morning Ever Comes” is wonderful, because it has her quirkiness without the smoothness of a professional writer. Now I’m reading “The Spare Room” by Helen Garner who somehow has kept being quirky even as she matured. Must be because she is from Australia.


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