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The Amateur Marriage (Anne Tyler)

June 26, 2010

I read this book on a whim. It was…well, it was alright. Just alright, though. For the first 1/2 or 2/3 of the novel, I found myself somewhat disinterested. The two main characters are both fairly unlikeable, and it makes the novel hard to read in a way, because there’s really nothing drawing you to continue turning the pages. In Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (among other novels), you also have a protagonist who’s sort of annoying…but there’s enough going on stylistically and plotwise to keep you interested. With The Amateur Marriage, I kept waiting to feel more drawn to the characters, but for the entire novel found myself continually let down by them. They lacked depth, they lacked common decency toward one another, and they were relatively uninteresting. The only characters who interested me were the protagonists’ children, but only for a brief period of time — once I realized they were also going to stay flat, I lost interest in them as well. Essentially, much of the plot revolves around failed communication between people who care deeply about one another but lack the ability to express their joys and frustrations. For me, this made the novel a difficult one to read because I have a somewhat low tolerance for those kinds of interactions.

So you might be wondering why I kept reading if I felt there was so little drawing me to the book. It’s a good question. Something kept me turning those pages, although I’ll admit that it might have been the fact that I couldn’t get to sleep last night. So I read a book that was entirely mediocre to me. Well, it’s not the first time. After all, I mucked my way through Ian McEwan’s Atonement on more than one occasion (that book has been required reading for 4 of my grad classes — a fact that continues to baffle me with each read), and I have much stronger feelings about that novel than Tyler’s novel. In any case, if you’re really interested in reading a book that illustrates the ways people hurt the ones they love in small, seemingly-trivial ways (a harsh word here, a line crossed there) and then live to regret it and wonder why their lives seemed so poorly lived, this is the book for you. I can honestly say that, having read this book, I’m uncertain as to whether I’ll ever read another Anne Tyler novel again. It wasn’t all that bad, it just wasn’t all that good either. In this instance, I’d say it all boils down to personal preference…but I suppose you could say that about all books.

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