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The Beginner's Goodbye


The Beginner's Goodbye

Aaron is a tall, gawky and somewhat crippled man who works as an editor at his family's publishing firm. During a book consultation, Aaron meets Dorothy, a plain-looking, very short and rather blunt-speaking radiologist. In Dorothy, he finds a woman who is clearly not a nurturer, which appeals to him. His mother and sister Nandina had always coddled and overprotected him because of his crippled right leg and arm and slight speech impediment. Aaron has never thought of himself as handicapped and is a bit prickly that others do. He is always misplacing his cane, insisting that he doesn't really need it, and thinks the BMV is unreasonable in requiring him to have special adaptations on his car.

"Fans of Tyler’s work will find THE BEGINNER’S GOODBYE to be a slight departure from her previous offerings, but a pleasant addition to her long list of popular novels."

After a brief and unremarkable courtship, Aaron and Dorothy marry. Dorothy offhandedly announces that there would be no children, and Aaron agrees. The couple has no pets, and neither spouse seems to have any hobbies or interests. Dorothy is devoted to her job, and since she has absolutely no use for cooking, Aaron willingly and capably handles that task. They seem to be two people occupying the same house yet living in their own separate worlds. Their disagreements are not especially serious, but rarely do they see or understand the other’s point of view.

Their lives plod along rather quietly, though not particularly happily, until a freak accident occurs. A huge white oak falls onto their small bungalow, crushing part of the roof and flattening the sun porch where Dorothy is reading. A weighty old television set falls and lands on Dorothy's chest. She has surgery, but lives only a short time. Her death sends Aaron into a tailspin, and he seems to be jogging in quicksand emotionally. He accepts casseroles from the kind neighbors and sends them thank-you notes, but proceeds to scrape the food into the garbage, and then cleans and returns the dishes. How much food can one person eat?

Severe rain damages more of the house, and eventually Aaron flees to North Baltimore to the old family home that Nandina now occupies. He continues to lose himself in his work and rarely interacts with his co-workers. A contractor begins working on the damaged bungalow, and soon Nandina and the contractor, Gil, are discussing the renovations. For the longest time, Aaron refuses to return to check on the progress and even asks the contractor to bring him clothes from the house.

Nearly a year after her death, Dorothy appears, standing there looking at the house. Naturally, Aaron struggles with scattered thoughts. Am I imagining this? Who sent her back to me? And why? Although he can’t fathom what’s going on, he interprets Dorothy's sudden appearance as her desire to be with him because she misses him so much, which gives him comfort. But Dorothy disappears as quickly as she appears. He often tries to will her to return, but always fails. He feels a warmth when she’s nearby and a chill in the air when she abruptly and silently goes away.

Meanwhile, the house restoration is progressing nicely, and so is the unexpected romance between Gil and Nandina. Aaron moves back into his own house as he begins to see the world through Dorothy's perspective, possibly a rather strange phenomenon for a widow or widower. One day, Aaron and Peggy, the firm's devoted secretary and a childhood friend, have a perplexing conversation during which Peggy gives him a huge piece of her mind. Aaron thinks that maybe he needs to read THE BEGINNER'S DEMENTED SECRETARY. To understand the reason for Peggy's outburst, you need to remember that she is a natural nurturer.

Anne Tyler wraps up this unique story in a way that will please readers. Though the plot itself isn't believable (unless, of course, you believe in ghosts or apparitions, or the power of suggestion), the characters are very real. Fans of Tyler’s work will find THE BEGINNER’S GOODBYE to be a slight departure from her previous offerings, but a pleasant addition to her long list of popular novels.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on May 4, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye
by Anne Tyler

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0307957276
  • ISBN-13: 9780307957276