It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!
As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler! There are definitely spoilers ahead.
On the day in 1941 that Pauline walks into his mother’s grocery store, Michael Anton is smitten. Pauline, in her red coat, is bright, impulsive, exciting. She’s everything he didn’t know he wanted and shortly after, literal hours, he’s agreed to sign up for military service. And so begins the story of the next several decades of their lives, when it turns out that actually they are very ill suited to each other and probably don’t even like each other that much. The book is divided into chapters that kind of function as short stories – each chapter is a different time in their relationship, sometimes it’s told from Pauline or Michael’s experience, sometimes from one of their children.
I liked this one more than I thought I would! It did remind me of Wait For Me Jack, that we read last year. While the novel didn’t really go too deeply into the current events of the times, it did use elements of what was happening to shape the story of the marriage. The fervor of the days after Pearl Harbor, the free love of Haight-Ashbury, how immediately the world changed after 9/11; these provide shifts for Pauline and Michael and their family but mostly it’s a novel of dinners, driving, chores, the everyday stuff that makes up a life.
It’s a quiet novel that I felt burned slowly but did end up bringing some heat. I was surprised by some of the things that happened to the Antons – the disappearance of their eldest child, their divorce, Pauline’s death! I thought maybe they would separate but that they would get back together. Be one of those couples that’s completely miserable but divorce just isn’t on the table. I think Pauline would have lived that way but evidently for Michael, once he saw another way, he took it.
What does the book say about being a wife?
This is another one that was more about the marriage than about the experience of being a wife. Both husband and wife are given equal weight in the telling of their story, both recognize that they’ve done things wrong and take on some blame for the dissolution of their marriage. Each catalogue their faults but can’t quite help but also rundown the faults of their partner; Michael spends too much at his store, Pauline is too attached to their children, their sex life is cursory. Ultimately, they barely knew each other when they got married and as life piled up and got in the way, they “were more like brother and sister than husband and wife. This constant elbowing and competing, jockeying for position, glorying in I-told-you-so.”
Pauline and Michael would never have married each other if they hadn’t both got caught up in the ‘excitement’ of the war. Each tries to make the best of it – Pauline assumes that everyone is kind of miserable in their marriage, that everyone squabbles all the time and that’s just how marriage is, Michael goes to work and tries to provide a decent life for everyone. But when their daughter goes missing, that’s the beginning of the end for them. They could handle the day to day disappointments, but Lindy’s disappearance shows each the faults of the other rather more explicitly.
The Amateur Marriage tells the story of a couple who have no idea what they are doing until it’s too late to change anything and then they just keep going, one foot in front of the other.
Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in September when we’ll discuss The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams.