Anne Tyler is one of those great authors whose books you can just pick up and enjoy. Her books are mostly about family and messy relationships. Her characters are vividly drawn without a lot of description, which is always refreshing. You feel like you could meet these people on the street – or even in your own family – and know them. Not a lot happens in this novel, no major twists and turns, it’s just the understated events of three generations and a marriage under the microscope. Tyler plays with the question of what makes a good marriage? Can it survive the test of time and hardship and tragedy and perhaps even divorce? Michael and Pauline seemed like the perfect couple to others, but underneath lies the reality that they are really quite mismatched. But is that bad? Most married people would say that they are quite opposite in a lot of ways. A ‘successful marriage’ is a mystery that Tyler doesn’t attempt to solve, leaving it to the reader to draw the conclusions (although I do believe she hints at her own opinion of Michael and Pauline’s marriage at the end).
‘Amateur’ first struck me as a strange word to use to describe marriage. We use adjectives like: committed, failed, arranged, mixed, etc. Amateur is defined as being engaged in an activity like sport or photography on an unpaid basis. But can a marriage be professional? And then I learned that the word amateur comes from the Latin word ‘amare’ – to love, in other words a ‘lover of’.
Tyler has written more than a dozen books, some of which have been made into film adaptations. My all-time favourite of hers has to be Ladder of Years. It’s about a mother who does what every mother has probably thought of doing, but never has actually done. One day on vacation with her family, she simply walks away down the beach and doesn’t return. She gets on a bus, heads to another town, and begins a new life with a new identity where she feels that she is more than a “bee buzzing around the edges” of her husband and children. After this shocking casting off all responsibility, it is so interesting and surprising to see what she actually does with her new life!