Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

Marriage has been on my mind lately, its eventual success or failure and what determines this outcome. These recent musings do not stem from my own marriage but from a memoir I just finished. It Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies got me thinking about how tenuous a prospect wedlock can be--how the saying "timing is everything" really applies to this institution. Gillies, a New York actress, is swept off her feet by childhood friend Josiah Robinson at a wedding, and they proceed from passionate dating to wedlock and parenthood. They move to Oberlin, Ohio for his professorship where he soon begins to canoodle with another. Reading between the lines, I see that Gillies was simply at a time in her life (early 30s) when she needed to get married and have children. Her husband fit the bill--he was gorgeous, thoughtful (at first), and brilliant. Smitten by perfect timing with the perfect man, she ignored the warning signs (he'd had an affair when married to his first wife!) that she might have heeded in her twenties or even later in her forties.

All this discussion about timing and wedlock brings me to another one of favorite books: The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler. (Every one of Tyler's books belongs on this list--however, I'm aiming for a smidgen of diversity.) In this book, Michael and Pauline time their meeting perfectly: during the heady days of WWII, he falls hard for her mostly because she looks the part of pretty wartime gal. He is smitten, but the resulting marriage is anything but storybook. Incompatible personalities should have doomed this union from the start, but something about that wartime beginning just carried them onward. Michael and Pauline are married for thirty years before one of them finally decides to fix the mistake they made. Thirty years! As always, Tyler deals with this thorny topic with humor and compassion, so it's never unbearably sad. I urge the reader to compare this novel with the marriage portrayed in Tyler's Breathing Lessons.

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