Michael and Pauline seemed like the perfect couple - young, good-looking, made for each other. The moment she walked into his mother's grocery store in Baltimore, he was smitten, and in the heat of World War II fervour, they marry in haste. From the sound of the cash register in the old grocery to the counter-culture jargon of the sixties, from the miniskirts to the multilayers of later years, we watch their lives unspool and see the consequences of their very mismatched marriage.
OVER A MILLION ANNE TYLER BOOKS SOLD
‘She’s changed my perception on life’ Anna Chancellor
‘One of my favourite authors ’ Liane Moriarty
‘She spins gold' Elizabeth Buchan
‘Anne Tyler has no peer’ Anita Shreve
‘My favourite writer, and the best line-and-length novelist in the world’ Nick Hornby
‘A masterly author’ Sebastian Faulks
‘Tyler is not merely good, she is wickedly good’ John Updike
‘I love Anne Tyler’ Anita Brookner
‘Her fiction has strength of vision, originality, freshness, unconquerable humour’ Eudora Welty
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 30-year marriage of Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay, and its dissolution. In December 1941 in St. Cassians, a mainly Eastern European conclave in Baltimore, 20-year-old Michael meets Pauline and is immediately smitten. They marry after Michael is discharged from the army, but their temperaments don't mix. For Michael, self-control is the greatest of virtues; for Pauline, expression is what makes us human. She is compulsively friendly, a bad hider of emotions, selfish in her generosity ("my homeless man") and generous in her selfishness. At Pauline's urging, the two move to the suburbs, where they raise three children, George, Karen and Lindy. Lindy runs away in 1960 and never comes back although in 1968, Pauline and Michael retrieve Pagan, Lindy's three-year-old, from her San Francisco landlady while Lindy detoxes in a rehab community that her parents aren't allowed to enter. Michael and Pauline got married at a time when the common wisdom, expressed by Pauline's mother, was that "marriages were like fruit trees.... Those trees with different kinds of branches grafted onto the trunks. After a time, they meld, they grow together, and... if you tried to separate them you would cause a fatal wound." They live into an era in which the accumulated incompatibilities of marriage end, logically, in divorce. For Michael, who leaves Pauline on their 30th anniversary, divorce is redemption. For Pauline, the divorce is, at first, a tragedy; gradually, separation becomes a habit. A lesser novelist would take moral sides, using this story to make a didactic point. Tyler is much more concerned with the fine art of human survival in changing circumstances. The range and power of this novel should not only please Tyler's immense readership but also awaken us to the collective excellency of her career.