I usually love Anne Tyler's novels, but this one left me lukewarm. Although it is, like her other novels, thoughtful and well written, I didn't get much from it. The characters live, age, etc. Huh.
After reading it, I learned that Tyler had intended to keep writing this book for her entire life, weaving new parts of the family into it and extending it back in time. She saw it as a work without an ending. This helps explain the lack of structure. Also, I'm not sure that this kind of work qualifies as a novel? Either way, it was lovely but totally missable.
From the very beginning, everyone who knew Michael and Pauline could tell that they were absolutely meant to be together. As a couple, they seemed to be perfectly matched: young, good-looking, made for each other. As a matter of fact, their first meeting with each other seemed to be almost like a scene from a romantic novel or some old Hollywood movie.
The moment Pauline - a stranger to the Polish neighborhood of Eastern Avenue in Baltimore, even though she lived only twenty minutes away - walked into his mother's grocery store, Michael is completely smitten. Pauline steps into the store as a damsel in distress, and Michael becomes her hero. And in the heat of World War II fervor, they are propelled into a hasty marriage. Yet, this is definitely a couple who never should have married.
Pauline, impulsive and impractical, tumbles headlong through life and takes to marriage in a relatively hit-or-miss fashion. Michael, serious and deliberate all throughout his life, proceeds into marriage in exactly the same precise and measured way - dealing with Pauline and her various issues in a fairly judgemental and predictable fashion. And, in time - while other young married couples who were equally as inept from the beginning seemed to grow more seasoned and settled in their own marriages - both Michael and Pauline remained amateurs. Over time, the couple's foolish and petty quarrels inevitably take their toll.
Even when they find themselves - almost three decades later - loving, instant parents to their little three-year-old grandson named Pagan, whom they rescue from Haight-Ashbury, Michael and Pauline still seem unable to bridge the cavernous distance created by their deep-rooted differences. For flighty Pauline - who clings to the notion that given enough time, all things wrong can be made right again - the rifts in their marriage can always be patched. Yet to the unyielding Michael, their differences have become unbearable.
I must say that I absolutely loved reading this book. In my opinion, Anne Tyler is thoughtful and measured in her writing style; deeply invested in the development of her characters and plots. She is actually a tremendous writer.
I am always amazed at how easily I can get lost in her stories. To me, they never seem forced or disjointed. This book was equally as easy to read and to get lost in; there was a poignancy and a realistic quality to this plot that I thoroughly enjoyed. I give this book an A+!
Thoroughly enjoyable. Characters are staying with me - I keep thinking about them.