THE AMATEUR MARRIAGE

Anne Tyler, Author . Knopf $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4207-4

Because Tyler writes with scrupulous accuracy about muddled, unglamorous suburbanites, it is easy to underestimate her as a sort of Pyrex realist. Yes, Tyler intuitively understands the middle class's Norman Rockwell ideal, but she doesn't share it; rather, she has a masterful ability to make it bleed. Her latest novel delineates, in careful strokes, the 30-year marriage of Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay, and its dissolution. In December 1941 in St. Cassians, a mainly Eastern European conclave in Baltimore, 20-year-old Michael meets Pauline and is immediately smitten. They marry after Michael is discharged from the army, but their temperaments don't mix. For Michael, self-control is the greatest of virtues; for Pauline, expression is what makes us human. She is compulsively friendly, a bad hider of emotions, selfish in her generosity ("my homeless man") and generous in her selfishness. At Pauline's urging, the two move to the suburbs, where they raise three children, George, Karen and Lindy. Lindy runs away in 1960 and never comes back—although in 1968, Pauline and Michael retrieve Pagan, Lindy's three-year-old, from her San Francisco landlady while Lindy detoxes in a rehab community that her parents aren't allowed to enter. Michael and Pauline got married at a time when the common wisdom, expressed by Pauline's mother, was that "marriages were like fruit trees.... Those trees with different kinds of branches grafted onto the trunks. After a time, they meld, they grow together, and... if you tried to separate them you would cause a fatal wound." They live into an era in which the accumulated incompatibilities of marriage end, logically, in divorce. For Michael, who leaves Pauline on their 30th anniversary, divorce is redemption. For Pauline, the divorce is, at first, a tragedy; gradually, separation becomes a habit. A lesser novelist would take moral sides, using this story to make a didactic point. Tyler is much more concerned with the fine art of human survival in changing circumstances. The range and power of this novel should not only please Tyler's immense readership but also awaken us to the collective excellency of her career. (Jan.)

Forecast: Expect the usual blockbuster sales—there will be a first printing of 300,000. This is also likely to become one of Tyler's strongest backlist titles.

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Mass Market Paperbound - 342 pages - 978-0-345-47245-8
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 215 pages - 978-1-4000-4298-2
Paperback - 419 pages - 978-987-04-0129-2
Hardcover - 498 pages - 978-0-375-43336-8
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Prebound-Other - 315 pages - 978-1-4176-6387-3
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Paperback - 336 pages
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7393-1041-0
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-7393-4579-5
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-09-946959-9
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