When Aaron’s wife suddenly dies, there’s no time to resolve the big and small issues in their marriage. As a thirty-something widower, he can’t bear to go back to their house. His memory of what would have blown over as a meaningless tiff hangs inside, unresolved.
Dorothy had come at just the right time in his life. Disabled by a childhood fever, he’d spent a lifetime being managed by his mother and sister, Nandina. Dorothy’s indifference and matter of fact personality had been just what he needed. “What’s wrong with your arm?” she had asked when they first met. When he explained, she said, “Huh” and they moved on and fell in love. But their marriage was not exactly typical. Dorothy’s medical career kept her self-focused and inattentive, on the surface. That’s what Aaron had wanted after all.
After Dorothy’s death, Aaron wades through the early paralyzing months of grief and he remembers what he had loved about his wife, as well as a mix of other pointless marital misunderstandings. And when Dorothy first appears by his side, he can’t make sense of her presence, but it could be his chance to make things right.
Several nice parallel stories make The Beginner’s Goodbye a refreshing read. The title’s tie-in with Aaron’s experience is one of them. As an editor of a family-run vanity press, his good-bye experience fits in well with the company’s beginner’s series, guides to help readers through life’s passages. Tyler’s message seems to suggest a gentle and guided change through difficult times. I like that. Aaron may be lost in the trenches of unhappiness, but even his predictable and monotonous office life offers new possibilities, if only he will notice. I like that too.
Aaron’s relationship with Nandina also changes when he moves in with his sister. Nandina, unmarried, still lives in their childhood home. Living there, even temporarily while his house is fixed up, makes Aaron vulnerable to her doting ways. Is it a step forward or backward? A surprising twist in circumstances shows Aaron that nothing stays the same, and that’s good.
I enjoyed reading The Beginner’s Goodbye because of its refreshing outlook, even in tragic circumstances. I have read several of Tyler’s books, but nothing recent and thought this was a good way to get back into my Anne Tyler reading mode!
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