The Beginner's Goodbye

The Beginner's Goodbye

3.3 64
by Anne Tyler
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Tyler’s elegant 19th novel, Aaron is an editor at a vanity press with a crippled right arm and leg who thinks of himself as “unluckier but no unhappier” than anyone else. He meets Dorothy, a brisk, no nonsense doctor, while editing a medical tome, and they fall in love, marry, and muddle along until Dorothy dies in an accident that nearly destroys their home. Aaron moves in with his overprotective sister and begins seeing Dorothy’s ghost, spectral appearances that make him realize just how many fissures there were in their marriage. Tyler’s gentle style focuses on the details of daily life, and how the little things, both beautiful and ugly, contribute to the bigger picture. Tyler (Breathing Lessons, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988) portrays complex, difficult, loving individuals struggling to co-exist and find happiness together. This is no gothic ghost story nor chronicle of a man unraveling in his grief, but rather an uplifting tale of love and forgiveness. By the end of this wonderful book, you’ve lived the lives and loves of these characters in the best possible way. Agent: Jesseca Salky, Hannigan Salky Getzler. 150,000-copy announced first printing. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Although crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron has spent much of his life fending off his family's attempts to protect him from the world. A successful editor of a vanity press in Baltimore that publishes a series of beginner's guides to various subjects, Aaron one day finds himself falling in love with Dr. Dorothy Rosales, whom he has approached about helping to write The Beginner's Cancer. They soon end up married, but catastrophe strikes when a tree falls on their house and kills Dorothy. Unable to live in his house any longer because of memories and roof damage, Aaron goes to live with his sister. He moves through loss, despair, helplessness, and emotional paralysis until one day Dorothy appears to him in the street. Struggling with the meaning of her appearances, Aaron eventually comes to accept them as her way of both saying good-bye and helping him get over her death. VERDICT As always, Pulitzer Prize winner Tyler brilliantly explores a stunning range of human emotion, poignantly considering the challenges of death while creating lovable characters whose foibles capture our hearts. Essential reading. [See Prepub Alert, 9/30/11.]—Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Evanston, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Though the plot finds a man in early middle age coming to terms with the death of his wife, the tone of this whimsical fable is so light that it practically floats off the page. Some might consider the latest from Tyler (Noah's Compass, 2010, etc.) typically wise and charming, while others will dismiss it as cloying. She employs a first-person narrator, a 36-year-old man named Aaron, who works for a small-family publishing firm that specializes in its Beginners series. "These were something on the order of the Dummies books, but without the cheerleader tone of voice," explains Aaron, who proceeds to offer the sort of insight that could come from almost any Tyler novel: "Anything is manageable if it's divided into small enough increments, was the theory, even life's most complicated lessons." At the start of the book, Aaron is in the beginning stages of mourning, after a tree crashed through his house and crushed his slightly older wife. She was a doctor; Aaron is "crippled" and something of an oddball. As Tyler's readers recognize, we are each of us crippled and oddball, deep down inside, and the fact that Aaron's was a marriage of misfits makes it no different from any other. Early on, Aaron receives visits from his dead wife, whom no one else can see, and whom he admits might well be a projection or an apparition. If he is an unreliable narrator, he is also a flawed one, often sounding more like a much older woman than like a man his age (very few of whom use terms like "busy-busy"). Mourning is both a rite of passage and a process of discovery for Aaron, who early worries that, "I can't do this…I don't know how. They don't offer any courses in this; I haven't had any practice," but who is ultimately not a tragic but comic figure, one who will (more or less) live happily ever after. An uncharacteristically slight work by a major novelist.
From the Publisher
“An absolute charmer of a novel about grief, healing, and the transcendent power of love . . . With sparkling prose and undeniable charm, Tyler gets at the beating heart of what it means to lose someone, to say goodbye, and to realize how we are all, perhaps, always ultimate beginners in the complex business of life . . . A dazzling meditation on marriage, community, and redemption.” Boston Globe

“A pleasure to read . . . Classic Tyler . . . The wonder of Anne Tyler is how consistently clear-eyed and truthful she remains about the nature of families and especially marriage.” Los Angeles Times

“Like a modern Jane Austen, Tyler creates small worlds where she depicts in minutest detail the intimate bonds of friendship and family.” USA Today
 
“Anne Tyler is one of our national treasures, and The Beginner’s Goodbye puts all of her skills on display: her warmth and wit, her generous embrace of her flawed characters, her clear-eyed observations about the inner workings of a marriage and the enduring bonds between brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.” —Jennifer Weiner
 
The Beginner’s Goodbye is the purest distillation of an Anne Tyler novel imaginable.” San Francisco Chronicle

“Anne Tyler has no peer. Her books just keep getting better and better. In The Beginner’s Goodbye, I was surprised, intrigued, and delighted at every turn.”  —Anita Shreve

“Anne Tyler never disappoints . . . Her insights about life, love, aging, marriage, siblings, grief, and unexpected happiness grow richer and deeper with each passing year and book.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“Over five decades of exuberant shape-shifting across the fictional landscape, Anne Tyler has cut the steady swath of a literary stalwart, writing novel after novel whose most memorable characters inhabit a cosmos all their own . . . What makes each story distinctive is the particular way its characters rebel against hereditary confines, cope with fateful crises, or forge relationships with new acquaintances who rock their world . . . Once again, Tyler exhibits her genius for the incisive, savory portrayal of marriage.” —Julia Glass, New York Times Book Review 
 
“This is what Tyler does better than almost any contemporary writer. She peers at the forgotten areas of the everyday, the bits that are hard to pinpoint, yet make up the bulk of our lives and relationships. And this, ultimately, is why she is such a satisfying writer: she looks at people—at life—from the inside out. This is a book not just about grief, but about hope . . . The Beginner’s Goodbye is diverting, certainly, but also deeply rewarding. There is, in short, no guilt in the pleasure of a new Tyler. We can only hope for many, many more.” Sunday Times (UK)

“Beautifully intricate. By the exquisitely romantic emotional climax, Aaron’s ordinary life has bloomed into an opera.” Entertainment Weekly
 
“Its insights will keep you up nights.  . . . Ranks high in the hierarchy of Tyler’s works. And what a lineup that is.” Chicago Tribune
 
“Warm, smart, deliciously written.” More magazine
 
“As always, Pulitzer Prize winner Tyler brilliantly explores a stunning range of human emotion, poignantly considering the challenges of death while creating lovable characters whose foibles capture our hearts. Essential reading.” Library Journal
 
“One of the things that makes Tyler’s work so radiant is that she seems to believe that people are inherently good and that, thanks to that goodness, ordinary lives can contain moments of great beauty, dignity, and hope. The Beginner’s Goodbye has all three . . . [Told] with characteristic warmth, sympathy and wisdom.” Daily Telegraph (UK)

“A scintillating gem of a novel . . . Exceptionally lithe and sparkling . . . A funny, sweet, and wise tale of lost and found love.” Booklist (starred)
 
“Elegant . . . An uplifting tale of love and forgiveness. By the end of this wonderful book, you’ve lived the lives and loves of these characters in the best possible way.” Publishers Weekly (starred, Pick of the Week)
 
“Anne Tyler writes about real life, and in common with the finest fiction writers, such as William Trevor and Alice Munro, she does not engage with fantasy, as she is well aware that the ordinary is sufficiently bizarre . . . She is effortless, wise yet never knowing, and establishes a sense of having thought deeply about the given facts of any story . . . She is also sympathetic without being sentimental . . . Yet again she has articulated the supreme difficulties of human communication in a calmly insightful exploration of love and truth, grief and reality.” Irish Times 
 

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307957276
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/03/2012
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.48(h) x 0.84(d)

Meet the Author

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her nineteenth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Baltimore, Maryland
Date of Birth:
October 25, 1941
Place of Birth:
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Education:
B.A., Duke University, 1961

Read an Excerpt

The Beginner's Goodbye


By Anne Tyler

Knopf

Copyright © 2012 Anne Tyler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307957276

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

We were strolling through Belvedere Square, for instance, on an early-­spring afternoon when we met our old next-­door neighbor, Jim Rust. “Well, what do you know,” he said to me. “Aaron!” Then he noticed Dorothy beside me. She stood peering up at him with one hand shielding her forehead from the sun. His eyes widened and he turned to me again.

I said, “How’s it going, Jim?”

Visibly, he pulled himself together. “Oh . . . great,” he said. “I mean . . . or, rather . . . but of course we miss you. Neighborhood is not the same without you!”

He was focusing on me alone—­specifically, on my mouth, as if I were the one who was talking. He wouldn’t look at Dorothy. He had pivoted a few inches so as to exclude her from his line of vision.

I took pity on him. I said, “Well, tell everybody hello,” and we walked on. Beside me, Dorothy gave one of her dry chuckles.

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. In line at the bank once we were spotted by Mr. von Sant, who had handled our mortgage application several years before. He was crossing the lobby and he paused to ask, “You two still enjoying the house?”

“Oh, yes,” I told him.

Just to keep things simple.

I pictured how the realization would hit him a few minutes later. Wait! he would say to himself, as he was sitting back down at his desk. Didn’t I hear something about . . . ?

Unless he never gave us another thought. Or hadn’t heard the news in the first place. He’d go on forever assuming that the house was still intact, and Dorothy still alive, and the two of us still happily, unremarkably married.



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.

One time we ran into Irene Lance, from my office. She’s the design person there. Dorothy and I were returning from lunch. Or I had had lunch, at least, and Dorothy had fallen into step beside me as I was walking back. And suddenly we noticed Irene approaching from St. Paul. Irene was hard to miss. She was always the most elegant woman on the street, not that that was much of a challenge in Baltimore. But she would have seemed elegant anywhere. She was tall and ice-­blonde, wearing a long, flowing coat that day with the collar turned up around her throat and the hemline swirling about her shins in the brisk spring breeze. I was curious. How would a person like Irene handle this type of thing? So I slowed my pace, which caused Dorothy to slow hers, and by the time Irene caught sight of us we were almost at a standstill, both of us waiting to see what Irene would do.

Two or three feet away from us, she stopped short. “Oh . . . my . . . God,” she said.

We smiled.

“UPS,” she said.

I said, “What?”

“I phoned UPS for a pickup and there’s nobody in the office.”

“Well, never mind. We’re heading back there right now,” I told her.

I used the word “we” on purpose, although Dorothy would most likely depart before I entered the building.

But all Irene said was, “Thanks, Aaron. I must be getting Alzheimer’s.”

And off she went, without another word.

She would really have worried about Alzheimer’s if she had known what she’d just overlooked.

I glanced over at Dorothy, expecting her to share the joke, but she was pursuing her own line of thought. “Wild Strawberries,” she said, in a reflective tone of voice.

“Pardon?”

“That’s who Irene reminds me of. The woman in the old Bergman movie—­the daughter-­in-­law, with the skinned-­back bun. Remember her?”

“Ingrid Thulin,” I said.

Dorothy raised her eyebrows slightly, to show she was impressed, but it wasn’t so very difficult to dredge that name up. I had been enamored with Ingrid Thulin since college. I liked her cool, collected air.

“How long do you suppose it will be before Irene does a double take?” I asked Dorothy.

Dorothy merely shrugged.

She seemed to view our situation much more matter-­of-­factly than I did.



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.



She was short and plump and serious-­looking. She had a broad, olive-­skinned face, appealingly flat-­planed, and calm black eyes that were noticeably level, with that perfect symmetry that makes the viewer feel rested. Her hair, which she cut herself in a heedless, blunt, square style, was deeply, absolutely black, and all of a piece. (Her family had come from Mexico two generations before.) And yet I don’t think other people recognized how attractive she was, because she hid it. Or, no, not even that; she was too unaware of it to hide it. She wore owlish, round-­lensed glasses that mocked the shape of her face. Her clothes made her figure seem squat—­wide, straight trousers and man-­tailored shirts, chunky crepe-­soled shoes of a type that waitresses favored in diners. Only I noticed the creases as fine as silk threads that encircled her wrists and her neck. Only I knew her dear, pudgy feet, with the nails like tiny seashells.

My sister said Dorothy was too old for me, but that was just because I had foolishly told the truth when I was asked. Even though she was eight years my senior—­forty-­three when she died—­she seemed younger, because of that good strong Hispanic skin. Plus, she had enough padding to fill out any lines. You wouldn’t really think about age at all, with Dorothy.

My sister also said she was too short for me, and it is undeniable that when Dorothy and I hugged, all the wrong parts of us met. I am six-­feet-­four. Dorothy was not quite five-­one. If you saw us walking down the street together, my sister said, you would take us for a father and child heading off to grammar school.

And too professional, my sister said. Ha! There’s a novel objection. Dorothy was a doctor. I work as an editor in my family’s publishing firm. Not all that great a disparity, right? What Nandina meant was, too intent upon her profession. Too work-­obsessed. She left for her office early, stayed late, didn’t greet me with my slippers in the evening, barely knew how to boil an egg. Fine with me.

But not with Nandina, evidently.

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.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler Copyright © 2012 by Anne Tyler. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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