The Amateur Marriage

Written by Anne Tyler
Review by Ellen Keith

Anne Tyler knows her Baltimore. The Amateur Marriage is a near-perfect recreation of a particular time and place. It takes us from Michael’s mother’s East Baltimore grocery store in 1941, where Michael and Pauline first meet, to the first years of their marriage living above the store, to trading up to a home and more upscale store in Baltimore County to their eventual divorce and restructuring of their lives.
Cautious Michael and impulsive Pauline are opposites, and one sign that they may not be made for each other is that Pauline doesn’t come from Michael’s neighborhood, where families live for generations and generations. In fact, it’s almost heresy when she insists that they move from there. Pauline wants the suburban American dream, but it proves elusive.
While the end of the marriage seems inevitable from almost the beginning of the book, Tyler makes the journey to that end absorbing, giving both Michael and Pauline their due. At times they seem like caricatures of a mismatched couple in Eisenhower America, but the small details Tyler brings to the story, such as the description of Pauline’s first and last date with a widower, make it much more than a case study of a marriage gone sour.