Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler: A review

If it's Anne Tyler, we must be in Baltimore again. 

This time she introduces us to a family publishing company, a small concern that mostly publishes vanity books. It has a line of "self-improvement" books called "The Beginner's..." which covers everything from cooking to you-name-it.

One of the editors at the company is Aaron, the scion of the family. Aaron has a crippled right arm and leg and has had to deal with an older sister who feels the need to protect him and manage his life. Nandina is unmarried and lives in the family home.

Aaron is married to Dorothy, a doctor who is very independent and outspoken. She is a plain, somewhat dumpy woman who is not interested in physical appearance or taking pains to make herself attractive. She is also not interested in taking care of Aaron or managing his life. Aaron adores her and they have a relatively happy marriage.

Then one day, the unthinkable happens. Aaron and Dorothy are at home together and they have a disagreement. Dorothy takes her things and goes out to the sunroom to work. A storm blows down a big tree which crashes into the house, crushing and killing Dorothy. Aaron is devastated.

Time passes but Aaron is no closer to coming to terms with his grief. But then a magical thing happens - Dorothy appears to him. And she keeps appearing to him, always at unexpected times and places. 

Gradually, Aaron finds that these appearances are helping him to learn to live in the present once again. He begins to feel more at peace with himself and his life.

Meanwhile, Nandina finds love with the contractor who is repairing Aaron's house, and Aaron finally notices that Peggy, one of the publishing house's employees and an old schoolmate of his, may be interested in more than just his friendship. Over time, he comes to believe that he has found a way to say goodbye to Dorothy and to get on with his life - The Beginner's Goodbye.

Anne Tyler's writing is always filled with her wise and penetrating observations of human nature and is frequently suffused with a gentle humor. All of that is present in this book as she explores the kind of "magical thinking" employed by this middle-aged man whose life was upended by the death of his wife. 

It is a pleasure to get to know Aaron and to see him begin to heal from his terrible loss as his dead wife comforts and guides him through his period of recovery. Tyler's wise and gentle stories are always uplifting and illuminating. I very much enjoyed this one.

2 comments:

  1. Lovely review and welcome home!

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    1. Thank you, Snap. Much as I enjoyed our trip, it is always good to get home again.

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