Monday, June 4, 2012

Anne Tyler's The Beginner's Goodbye

First of all, can Anne Tyler really be 70? Known for her distaste for getting out there to stump for her new books, I was surprised to read a full blown interview with her recently and to learn that her husband had died not that long ago. I guess that's why I opened The Beginner's Goodbye assuming that it was about people my age. I must have still been in Noah's Compass mode.

Also, most of the reviews I've read mislead readers into thinking that this is about a man who misses his dead wife so much that he conjures her up and speaks with her all the time. Really, not so much. While there's more to it than that, it's also disappointingly light. I never felt that I got to know these characters the way I did Noah. They almost, I hate to say it, came across as caricatures of a few basic types, with Aaron as the quintessential Walter Mitty, oblivious to what's happening around him.

Those of you familiar with Ms. Tyler will be comforted by and immediately recognize her wry sense of humor. She has a remarkable penchant for evoking the quirkiness of the regular, everyday person on the street. We all have our foibles, some of us in spades, so when we see them so vividly described in an Anne Tyler book we don't need to laugh out loud, a smirk or twist of the mouth is all it takes to show that you get it.

Aaron and Dorothy are the couple at the heart of this short novel, I read it in one day! Aaron's career is a crack up to those of us in the library profession as he and his sister operate the family's vanity publishing press dealing especially in books that resemble the "dummies" series, except that they're called the "beginner's" series.

Dorothy's death comes suddenly through a bizarre act of nature and after a tepid, typical disagreement with Aaron, for which he will suffer survivor's guilt. Aaron sleepwalks through his days, avoiding sympathizers, pitching casseroles from well meaning neighbors in the garbage, and working non-stop. It takes a while for Dorothy to make her presence known and, though Aaron cherishes that time with her, he also uses it to examine their relationship which he now realizes was fraught with misunderstanding.

Could it be that Dorothy wasn't the perfect partner for him after all? Grief and memory play tricks on people. How many of us know someone who had a miserable relationship for years but when the spouse died they were suddenly raised up on a pedestal of unearned perfection? I know I've seen it in my own family. And of course, therein lies Ms. Tyler's talent. She always manages to offer readers a person or situation that they can completely identify with.

I'd been looking forward to this book for quite some time and can now take my name off the wait list cause I confiscated a donated copy over the weekend. Though I was a little let down, perhaps my expectations were too high? I still recommend anything that Anne Tyler has to offer. Spending the day with her is as comfortable as being with old friends who may annoy us now and then but still beat having to put out the effort to find a new relationship. Uh oh, wasn't that Aaron and Dorothy's problem too?


TooManyBooks said...

That's interesting. I liked Beginner's Goodbye better than Noah's Compass. Hmm.

Sallyb said...

Ahhh, and that's why there are so many books!