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Monday, February 04, 2013


I’m a fan of Anne Tyler’s quirky but very human characters who stumble their way over life’s hurdles, so it is no surprise that I added The Beginner’s Goodbye to The Accidental Tourist and Breathing Lessons as novels I have smiled and winced through.  I always recognize Tyler’s lifelike characters and their struggles, and they move me.

Tyler sets the hook quickly.  Her opening sentence,

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

 misled me to thinking Beginner’s Goodbye would be another Harvey.  How silly of me!  Tyler doesn’t imitate.  She explores new realms in age-old problems somehow bringing to the surface the conflicts and truths that seem hard for most of us to recognize.  She does it in a remarkably easy flowing style that makes for quick and enjoyable reading.  I read Beginner’s Goodbye in two days.  I didn’t want to put it down.  We were on vacation.  In the right circumstance at home, I would have made myself comfortable and read it in one sitting.  It’s easy to see why.

Aaron Woolcott sees his deceased wife, Dorothy, in various spots around his Baltimore neighborhood.  She didn’t come back immediately after dying but almost a year later after Aaron moved back with his sister, Nandina, sent all the necessary thank-you notes for the food and niceties left by his neighbors, fell into some new routines, and still wondered if he could ever handle the hole in him caused by Dorothy’s death.  Perhaps in her re-appearance lies the answer, but how to find that answer lies the problem.

Anne Tyler introduces us to a host of characters, each quirky in some way and with some self-imposed shield of protection from life.  Even deceased Dorothy, by profession a doctor, is named after Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz and is not your usual MD. 

Quirky but also very human.  Aaron’s neighbors demonstrate something universal about how we feel when someone we know loses a loved one.  What are we to say?  Do we talk about that person or do we avoid talking about that person?  How do we act as time passes? 

Aaron knows he has to live through this, but he explains it so succinctly:

“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.”  What the “all” is doesn’t matter; all is everything.

The intriguing twists and turns of Anne Tyler’s plot kept me reading.  I got to know the characters well and could picture each one in all his/her strangeness.  I smiled, even laughed aloud on a few occasions.  I got choked up and even teary-eyed at other spots.  I wanted them all to find the way through their tribulations.

Because it is a fast read and a good one, it works well as a travel book, and I did Kindle it from our public library.  Oh yes, and it is a positive book about life and love and change.  You might want to look into that. 

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