Staff Review: Anne Kennedy, The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I love Anne Tyler! I love her big smile, her bangs that are always a bit too long, her hair gently escaping its clasp. Only two years have passed since her last novel but it seems much longer and I read The Beginner’s Goodbye almost in one sitting. I already know that I will read it again. Here is my favorite line: “I walked in a kind of trance, keeping my gait as nearly level as possible, as if Dorothy had been a liquid and now I was brimful of her and moving slowly and gently so as not to spill over.” It is with such elegant sentences that Tyler tells the story of Aaron, an ordinary man as we are all ordinary with a quirk, a flaw, a difference that distinguishes and informs him as our quirks, flaws and differences distinguish and inform each of us. At the time of this story, Aaron is about thirty, works in his family publishing firm ( a private press specializing in tedious memoirs and marginally useful how-to books), copes with a partially paralyzed right side resulting from a childhood illness and in very short order loses his wife in a freak accident. He is bereft. He endures each day by following the familiar rhythms of work. But on the day he finally persuades himself to walk past his old house, Dorothy appears to him as fully real as she had been in life. Having had no opportunity to say goodbye to Dorothy, Aaron begins to live for these encounters which offer the chance for each of them to say the things they had always held back from. And thus begins, although he does not see it this way, his goodbye. These are the stories that Tyler tells so well, never very long novels but always revealing human relationships that begin too soon or too unprepared – or perhaps too over-prepared – and evolve through struggle, loss and humor into unexpectedly rich fulfillment.

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