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Southern Selections
~~Deep South Book Reviews~~

by Augusta Russel Scattergood

by Anne Tyler

(Alfred A. Knopf, 2004)

Anne Tyler’s sixteenth novel opens on a Monday afternoon, early in December of 1941, as Michael Anton shelves Woodbury soap bars in his family grocery. A pretty girl in a red coat appears. Having jumped off a streetcar and cut her head, she needs first aid. Michael bandages the cut, courts her in a whirlwind wartime romance, and their amateur marriage is born.

Spanning three generations and sixty years, the novel tells of a complex family -- Pauline and Michael are mismatches to say the least. Eventually, each asks why did I marry this person? Why don’t I leave? They have rushed headlong into this marriage. Now they must muddle through.

Their children are victims of this muddling, especially the oldest daughter Lindy. By the time Lindy disappears without a trace, the couple is locked in unhappiness, and this pivotal event only accentuates their differences.

But even after the marriage dies a slow, sad death, Michael continues to be tethered to Pauline -- by shoveling the snow piling up on her sidewalks, by the knowledge that it was Pauline who freed him from his stifling boyhood, and by the memories. They both move on but raise Lindy’s young son together, acknowledging in some small way that their marriage was indeed more than it seemed.

In the end, Michael and his second wife Anna plod through their days in a marriage that, after twenty-two years, still feels to Michael like a second marriage. Anna may be more of a match -- after all, they do sit together sorting coupons for free car washes. But when Michael remembers Pauline, he can’t really recall what they disagreed about all those years. Of course, he has his children to remind him. The wayward Lindy returns and reconnects with her family, telling her father, “You were ice and she was glass. Two oddly similar substances, come to think of it—and both of them hell on your children.”

The Amateur Marriage is a joy to read. As with most of Anne Tyler’s books, the setting (ethnic, working-class Baltimore shifting to a middle-class suburb, newly built) and the heartbreaking domestic tenderness are all there. We’ve been invited to dinner, or at the very least to eavesdrop on these people in a checkout line at the grocery. Now that we know Tyler’s characters, we don’t want their story to end.


Mississippi native Augusta Scattergood writes monthly reviews for USADS. Readers may write her at gsgood@yahoo.com

Enjoy more of Gusty’s USADS book reviews:
Sela Ward’s Homesick: A Memoir
Rick Bragg’s All Over But The Shoutin’
Carl Hiassen’s Hoot
Louise Shaffer’s The Three Miss Margarets
Lewis and Peacock'sThe Gift of Southern Cooking
New Stories from the South
Bobbie Ann Mason's Clear Springs
And more! Please check our Books and Writers section.

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