The Beginner's Goodbye

My introduction to Anne Tyler occurred in eleventh grade English. We were to select an author from a list provided by the teacher and read three of their novels, than fashion some sort of analytical report about the author's work. I went with Tyler on my mother's suggestion and was delighted with the prospect of delving into her work quite quickly after I started to read my first Tyler selection. And so marked the beginning of my Anne Tyler fandom.

I think part of my fondness for Ms. Tyler has something to do with the fact that she is based in and tends to set her stories in Baltimore. It's an unexpected comfort to read a novel rife with references to my own hometown, to follow a cast of characters frequenting landmarks with which I am highly familiar. Beyond this Baltimorean bond, however, Anne Tyler's novels are the kind I simply cannot fail to enjoy. Her protagonists are always the kind that are strangely alluring, humanized by some sort of defect whether physical, psychological, or both. The plots are never highly complex in nature but they explore very compelling human themes that make for engaging and moving reading. 

Her evasiveness when it comes to the press is pretty intriguing, and impressive, as well. Tyler hardly ever gives interviews in-person and her books are well-received despite the fact that she doesn't travel on book tours. With a Pulitzer Prize in the bag for her ninth novel Breathing Lessons, the world seems to be in agreement that Anne Tyler has got something special in the writing department.

Much as I adore Tyler's work, I caught word of her most recent release, The Beginner's Goodbye, only in passing and immediately sent out a request for it at the library. Despite the busyness of work and school and gardening and housework and all the rest, I found the time to knock out this engaging and plainly delightful novel about a grieving widower named Aaron in just a few days. 

Though the construct of the story is downright tragic (Aaron's wife Dorothy is killed in their own home by a fallen tree), The Beginner's Goodbye is not a necessarily somber book. Aaron is editor of his family's publishing business which specializes in a beginner's guide series on topics from kitchen remodeling to dinner parties to funeral planning. After her passing, Dorothy continues to appear to her late husband. Through these visits, we travel with Aaron through the grieving process, with recollections from the couple's initial meeting all the way up to the moments before that fateful tree ended Dorothy's life. Though no how-to manual could ever direct Aaron out of his grief, encountering Dorothy helps navigate Aaron through his despair, much like the books which he edits are intended to guide novices through the new phases and challenges of their lives. 

Tyler's story is comforting, tender, and appropriately touched with levity. The Beginner's Goodbye is a subtle and simple story but one that, like most of Tyler's work, provides deep satisfaction and resonance. 

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