Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.
Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!
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It’s December 7, 1941. Michael Anton is working in the family store in an Eastern European Baltimore neighborhood when Pauline comes in with some neighborhood girls. It’s apparent to everyone that he’s a goner. Excitement is in the streets because of that day’s declaration of war against Japan, and in the impulse of Pauline’s excitement, Michael enlists.
Michael is injured during training, so he never goes to war but instead marries Pauline. Michael is steady, perhaps a little stolid. Pauline is emotional, reacting to every little thing and often over-reacting. The Amateur Marriage follows what is really an ill-assorted couple through their marriage—children, deaths, family crises—and beyond.
Tyler is excellent in her minute observations of everyday life. She sees the cracks in the American dream and reveals them with empathy. I enjoyed this novel, although at times Pauline drove me crazy.
What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife
At first, I thought Tyler was going to show how this admittedly mismatched couple could still make a lasting marriage, but that turned out not to be the case. The couple come together almost completely by chance, and later, when we learn about Pauline’s previous dating career and her career while Michael is in the service, we realize that if Michael had gone to war, Pauline would almost certainly have found someone else before he got back.
In the beginning of the relationship, the chemistry between them works pretty well, even though they obviously go into marriage with different expectations. Michael, for example, believes they will continue to live above the store, while Pauline assumes they will buy a house in the suburbs even though they can’t afford one. Michael at first seems relatively unambitious, while it is Pauline’s ideas that push him to do better than his parents’ store. The difficulties come when the chemistry starts to wear off.
This novel depicts a couple a little older than my parents although more conservative. In fact, in many ways they resemble my parents, some in temperament and others generationally. However, frankly Pauline is sometimes so volatile that I don’t know how anyone could live with her. It seems as though someone more expressive than Michael would make her feel more secure but would be even more likely to fight with her. And some of the things she says when she’s upset, which in later years seems like all the time, are really nasty.
Although Tyler isn’t explicit about this, I can’t help thinking that a lot of Pauline’s unhappiness comes from the sterile suburban life that my mother also lived, because the Antons do eventually move to the suburbs. Theirs is a typical 50’s marriage, with Michael away working a lot and not as involved with his children as he could be, with Pauline taking all the responsibility for the house and child care.
Pauline, a social girl, is isolated in the suburbs except for neighborhood parties and gossip by the pool or visits back to the old neighborhood (which, however, was not her old neighborhood, but Michael’s). However, she also cultivates a helplessness that I found shocking, when later in life she can’t light her own pilot light or shovel her own driveway.
Michael is a little more of a mystery because we don’t hear from him as often. He makes the same kind of mistakes as my father did, for example, buying practical gifts instead of frivolous or romantic ones. They fight about money, but he has had a careful immigrant upbringing of scrimping and saving, while hers has been more privileged—and she does seem to do some reckless spending.
I also felt this novel showed how people tend to concentrate on the negatives of their relationship when they’re at odds. It is only when things are long over that both Michael and Pauline begin to remember some of the things that brought them together in the first place.