The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler, due out April, 2012
I love Anne Tyler books. Pretty much every single one of them. Though in looking over the list, I don’t think I’ve read all of them, and I know I don’t remember much about most of them, but still. When I have my own bookstore (called Opening Soon), I shall have an Anne Tyler section.
She writes the best quirky characters. They are just like everybody you know, but with great quirks. Actually, everybody you know has quirks, but they hide them from you. Anne Tyler just writes them out there for all of us to read about. It’s not even that I fall in love with her characters, but I do always seem to understand them. Plot? Well, yes, there’s usually a plot, but it’s really just about life.
I also appreciate her because her books have grown up with me. The first ones I read were about young adults, and often their parents/siblings. Then she moved onto characters with spouses and children. And then about growing older. There’s lots of self-worth and self-realization issues, but always written with humor and quirkiness and readability.
So it was with great glee and anticipation that I grabbed the ARC of her newest novel, The Beginner’s Goodbye. Here’s the quick review:
After a childhood illness left him with a crippled right arm and leg, Aaron has always fought to be self-reliant. He finds the love of his life in an equally self-sufficient woman, Dorothy. After 10 years of marriage, Dorothy is killed in a freak accident and as Aaron grieves and tries to put his life back together, he begins to learn the true cost of his independent ways.
It caught me by surprise that in this book, Tyler writes about love and loss and grieving, but not about an old person. Aaron is only in his mid-thirties when he loses Dorothy. Because Tyler’s characters have seemed to get older with later books, I wasn’t expecting this character – and at times I was definitely reading him as an older man. Part of this is because his marriage was a little stale, a little taking each other for granted, a lot of complacency, which strikes me as a hallmark of a marriage longer than 10 years, but it is the marriage that Aaron and Dorothy had, and you realize why as the book develops. And Dorothy returns to Aaron. This is not a spoiler, the first line of the book is, “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.” Yes, for a moment I was afraid that Anne Tyler had fallen under the spell of zombies-for-fame-and-profit. But no, it’s all OK.
The title of the novel comes from Aaron’s employer. He works in the family business, a small publishing house. They do a lot of vanity press work, where people/authors pay them to put their book in print. They also have a fairly successful line of books called the Beginners Guides, much like the actual For Dummies series. There are some great scenes where they are discussing new marketing strategies for the beginners guides and also painfully accurate assessments of so many self-published books.
The Beginner’s Goodbye is classic Anne Tyler. Complete with the happy ending. Life can be good, even when you have to learn to say goodbye.