Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
Knopf Doubleday, 2012
Hardcover, 208 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307957276

Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel in which she explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances—in their house, on the roadway, in the market.
Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, self-dependent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace.
Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye.
A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler’s humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.

My Thoughts:
In The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler, Aaron, a 36-year-old editor for his family owned small vanity press in Baltimore, loses his wife in a tragic accident that almost destroys their home. Aaron, who has a crippled right arm and leg, ends up moving in with his overprotective sister while the house is being repaired. After some time passes, he begins to experience visits from his dead wife, Dorothy.
Through the visits from Dorothy, Aaron reflects on their life together and the difficulties they had, even while they loved each other. What I appreciated about Aaron is that he is a very real, flawed, complex character who struggles to find happiness even while he remembers small details about his courtship and marriage to Dorothy that aren't all picturing an idyllic marriage.
Anne Tyler is wonderful and The Beginner's Goodbye just reinforces my opinion of her writing. This isn't a heavy, depressing book. Oh, there are sad, moving parts, but it feels charming, humorous, and introspective as Aaron narrates his navigation through the stages of grief and comes to terms with his life.
While this is a much shorter novel than I would generally expect from Tyler, it is an incredible character study as Aaron works through his emotions and comes to some conclusions about himself and his marriage.
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted. opening

Other people pretended not to recognize either one of us. They would catch sight of us from a distance, and this sort of jolt would alter their expressions and they would all at once dart down a side street, busy-­busy, much to accomplish, very important concerns on their minds. I didn’t hold it against them. I knew this was a lot to adjust to. In their position, I might have behaved the same way. I like to think I wouldn’t, but I might have.

The ones who made me laugh aloud were the ones who had forgotten she’d died. Granted, there were only two or three of those—­people who barely knew us. pg.3-4

I had moved in by then with my sister, who lived in our parents’ old place in north Baltimore. Was that why Dorothy came back when she did? She hadn’t much cared for Nandina. She thought she was too bossy. Well, she was too bossy. Is. She’s especially bossy with me, because I have a couple of handicaps. I may not have mentioned that. I have a crippled right arm and leg. Nothing that gets in my way, but you know how older sisters can be.

Oh, and also a kind of speech hesitation, but only intermittently. I seldom even hear it, myself.

In fact, I have often wondered what made Dorothy select the moment she did to come back. It wasn’t immediately after she died, which is when you might expect. It was months and months later. Almost a year. Of course I could have just asked her, but somehow, I don’t know, the question seemed impolite. I can’t explain exactly why. pg. 4-5

Maybe the reason I didn’t ask Dorothy why she had come back when she did was that I worried it would make her ask herself the same question. If she had just sort of wandered back, absentmindedly, the way you would return to an old address out of habit, then once I’d brought it up she might say, “Oh! My goodness! I should be going!”

Or maybe she would imagine I was asking what she was doing here. Why she had come back at all, in other words. Like when you ask a houseguest how long he’s planning to stay and he suspects you’re asking, “When can I hope to be rid of you?” Maybe that was why I felt it wouldn’t be polite.

It would kill me if she left. I had already gone through that once. I didn’t think I could do it all over again. pg. 6-7

Maybe it was just a long, long way to travel, and that’s why it took Dorothy all those months to come back.

Or maybe she had first tried to do without me, the way I had first tried to do without her—­to “get over” my loss, “find closure,” “move on,” all those ridiculous phrases people use when they’re urging you to endure the unendurable. But eventually, she had faced the fact that we simply missed each other too much. She had given in and returned.

That’s what I liked to believe.
 pg. 8

That was one of the worst things about losing your wife, I found: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with. pg. 54

If there were a twelve-step program for cola drinkers, I bet she would have sent them a healthy contribution. pg. 92

...I've never forgotten that title. Mixed Company. I'll say. It summed up everything that was wrong with the institution of marriage. pg. 142


Jeanne said...

I wasn't sure what to make of the ghost story parts. In the end, it seemed to me they got submerged in the character study, which is kind of disappointing, because it means they were probably all in his head.

Lori L said...

Oh... I'm good with Dorothy's appearance being all in his head or real.