The Beginner’s Goodbye, by Anne Tyler


I may be different from other people, but I’m no unluckier. I believe that.  Or I’m unluckier but no unhappier. That is probably closer to the truth.

Sometimes I think I am unluckier than other people but much, much happier.

Being crippled on one side of his body is not the most unique thing about Aaron Woolcott. Neither is the fact that his wife, Dorothy, recently died. That she died when a tree fell on their house IS unique. Even more so is that she appears to him when he least expects it.

The Beginner’s Goodbye, by Anne Tyler, definitely has an unusual plot. In addition, while I cannot pinpoint any specific depth, it still exists in an abstract kind of way.

Throughout the book we are guided by Aaron’s thoughts and voice. We learn about his childhood illness, his helicopter mother and sister, his odd courtship with his future wife, her death and reappearance, and how these events affect him and those who know him.

There is a quietness to the storytelling. The pace is ambitious, but the volume is quiet. So much so that, if Aaron didn’t occasionally remind us of the modern technology he’s using and other time-period benchmarks, the reader would probably think that the story was set in the 1950’s. I appreciate this about the book. The “old-timey” feeling in a present-day setting. I also appreciate it when an author writes in the voice of the gender that is not their own, which Anne Tyler does successfully.

Surrounding Aaron is a bevy of secondary characters, each with their own idiosyncrasies and reactions to his grief. The contractor working to rebuild Aaron’s home, nosy neighbors, concerned co-workers, and his passive/aggressive sister Nandina who insists that she has only his best interests at heart. (Every time I arrived at her name I found myself saying it slowly…Nan-DI-na.)

Because everything is absorbed through Aaron’s personal filter, the reader is privy to his realizations as time goes by. His epiphany after many months as a widower is not grandiose, but sensible, and one that the reader can apply to his/her own relationships. If any philosophy is to be gleaned from the novel, this is it.

Refreshing, also, was the complete absence of blush-worthy words and scenes that seem so prevalent in today’s literature. This is the first Anne Tyler book I have read. She is a celebrated, prolific novelist. I look forward to reading more of her work. The Beginner’s Goodbye was an excellent introduction.

8.7/10 Stars

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