The Beginner’s Goodbye

Anne Tyler

The Beginner's Goodbye
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The Beginner’s Goodbye

Anne Tyler

When Dorothy came back from the dead, Aaron noticed that some people simply ignored the fact; some seemed to have forgotten she’d died in the first place; and others just walked straight on by. The accident that killed Dorothy - involving an oak tree, a sun porch and some elusive biscuits - leaves Aaron bereft and the house a wreck. As those around him fuss and flap and bring him casserole after casserole, Aaron ploughs on. He busies himself with work at the family firm, a publisher with a successful line in Beginner’s Guides to every stage and aspect of life. But then Dorothy starts to materialize in the oddest places. At first, she only comes for a short while, leaving Aaron longing for more. Gradually she stays for longer, and as they talk they also bicker…The cracks that start to reappear in their perfectly normal marriage are as well worn and familiar to Aaron as Dorothy herself. As Aaron starts to emerge from his grief, they are also a reassuringly poignant reminder that life may move on, but some things will forever remain the same.

Review

Many people my age have been put off by the novels of Anne Tyler as Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was set as high-school required reading in the 80s. This is not to say that the aforementioned novel is bad – far from it. I am a huge fan of Dinner and I’ve never understood why she has been unpopular with some of my peers. My school luckily (or sadly, whichever way you want to look at it) didn’t set it as part of my syllabus. I was denied the writing of Anne Tyler in my teenage years, discovering her at a later age, and after my initial reading of her I went on a binge, reading six of her novels almost consecutively. Her writing conveys a joyous love of the everyday and the everyman, and The Beginner’s Goodbye, her nineteenth novel, is no exception in this respect.

Aaron and his sister, Nandina, are publishers. They publish (quite unsellable) vanity titles along with ‘Beginner’s Guides’, which are the bread and butter of the business. Aaron’s crippled on one side of his body, due to childhood illness, and apart from physical limitations, lives a fairly normal life with his wife, Dorothy. When the oak tree in their backyard crashes through the house, killing Dorothy, staunchly independent Aaron finally capitulates and goes to live with Nandina until his house is rebuilt. Aaron begins to have visions of his recently deceased wife standing out on the street and loitering in public places and it’s not long afterwards that they start conversing. These interactions guide Aaron through his grief at this very tough time.

This heartbreaking story is imbued with beauty and bittersweet melancholy but, this being an Anne Tyler novel, it is spiked with a sly sense of humour and wisdom.

Jason Austin is from Readings Carlton

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