Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Book Review: The Beginner's Goodbye

"Anne could write about any city. She could never leave the house and write great fiction. She beautifully captures regular people who are not trying to be noticed. She writes about real life." —John Waters on his friend and fellow Baltimorean, Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler's new book, The Beginner's Goodbye, has all the ingredients of a successful Tyler book: quirky characters, family dysfunction, an introspective protagonist, a tragedy, a coping, and a rebirth. While I don't feel like this slim volume measures up to some of Tyler's greater works—The Accidental Tourist, Saint Maybe, Back When We Were Grownups, The Amateur Marriage, and my personal favorite, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant—it is well worth a read, as is any Tyler book.

Aaron Woolcott is 34 years old and runs his family's small publishing company. He is married to Dorothy, a practical, frumpy doctor eight years his senior whom he met when he sought a radiologist's expertise for his company's Beginner's Guide series on cancer. Aaron, who has been fussed over all his life by a doting mother and younger sister due to a crippled leg and arm resulting from a childhood disease, is smitten with Dorothy's unfussy nature, and he knows that this is the type of woman he could share a life with. But, as in any Tyler book, life does not go according to plan.

Aaron and Dorothy are married twelve years when a tree falls onto the roof of their sun porch and knocks over a big screen TV, crushing Dorothy to death. Aaron moves in with his sister while his house is being repaired. Aaron is in no hurry to return to his empty house, and because the repairs to the house are major, he stays on at his sister's and reflects on the kind of marriage he and Dorothy had. Like any memories after a loss, the good ones rise to the top, at first, but eventually Aaron is reminded of all the ways their marriage didn't work. Aaron, tall and thin, and Dorothy, stumpy and wide, never quite fit together when they hugged, just as they didn't fit as a couple.

Uncharacteristic of a Tyler book, Dorothy starts appearing unannounced to Aaron a year after her death, popping up at his elbow as he's walking down the sidewalk, or staring at the house from across the street. Their talks are brief, but much is imparted. And unlike some apparitions with the charitable goal of coming back to comfort the living, the no-nonsense Dorothy simply needs some things clarified before saying goodbye forever.

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