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The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
These days of infamy bracket tectonic shifts in American society; but Tyler uses them to frame the story of Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay, who meet in the excitement of an impromptu patriotic parade: "All six of the Szapp boys are enlisting, haven't you heard? And a couple of their friends besides. They've got this banner - Watch out, Japs! Here come the Szapps! They were taking their first steps on the amazing journey of marriage Tyler is obviously commenting on that perennial, the American loss of innocence, and the novel is also a beautifully recreated social history of the disappearance of an immigrant generation - here Polish Catholics in Baltimore - into the American mainstream. By its end, the last of the Szapps has died of a stroke and Michael's neighbourhood grocery store has been taken over by the supermarket chain World O'Food.
The Amateur Marriage
IN , when Fanny Trollope published her travel book ''Domestic Manners of the Americans,'' one reviewer called it a ''spiteful, ill-considered and mischief-making book. Tyler's last three novels have focused, even more than her best-known ones like ''Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant'' and ''The Accidental Tourist,'' on domestic dislocations. In ''Ladder of Years,'' Delia Grinstead, on what looks like a whim, leaves her husband and children, finding a new place and a new identity; Barnaby Gaitlin, the divorced father in ''A Patchwork Planet,'' has a whimsical indisposition to settle down anywhere; and Rebecca Davitch, the year-old grandmother in ''Back When We Were Grownups,'' is introduced as ''a woman who discovered that she had turned into the wrong person.
Because Tyler writes with scrupulous accuracy about muddled, unglamorous suburbanites, it is easy to underestimate her as a sort of Pyrex realist. Yes, Tyler intuitively understands the middle class's Norman Rockwell ideal, but she doesn't share it; rather, she has a masterful ability to make it bleed. Her latest novel delineates, in careful strokes, the year marriage of Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay, and its dissolution. In December in St. Cassians, a mainly Eastern European conclave in Baltimore, year-old Michael meets Pauline and is immediately smitten.