Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book Review: The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

The Beginner's Goodbye

Author: Anne Tyler
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Date of Publication: January 29, 2013
Pages: 210 (Trade Paperback Edition)

     This book has the most remarkable opening line in recent memory: "The strangest thing about my wife's return from the dead was how other people reacted."  So begins one one of the most poignant and moving stories about death, grieving and marriage which I have ever read.

     The story is told in the first person by a young widower named Aaron.  This man, like most Anne Tyler characters (and like most of us), is flawed.  In this case, Aaron has a physical disability from a childhood illness and confidence issues from growing up with a protective, dominating mother and older sister.  This book is character driven, as are all of this author's wonderful works.  This book is full of imperfect, very human characters.  Characters to which the reader can readily identify, recognize and, well, like!  The magic of The Beginner's Goodbye is that the author takes these wonderfully funky characters and weaves a tale of loss and grief which is all at once sad and uplifting.

     Aaron's musings inevitably evolve into an introspective of his marriage's high points and failings.  Regrets are mulled and areas where things could have been handled differently or with more feeling and concern are examined.  At one point Aaron reflects:

     "I used to toy with the notion that when we die we find out what our lives have amounted to, finally.  I'd never imagined that we could find that out when somebody else dies."

This theme has appeared in many of Anne Tyler's stories.  That is, that we are who we are through our relationships with others.  In The Beginner's Goodbye she distills this notion down to how the lives of us married folk in large part are defined by our choice of spouse and the nurturing (or lack of nurturing) of that relationship over time.

    All of us are human and will at some time or another suffer a tremendous loss: a parent, a spouse or a child.  Everyone can relate to Aaron and his struggles.   This story sticks with you and serves as a not-so-gentle reminder that we need to appreciate our loved ones and make the best of every minute of every day.  Things can change in a heartbeat.

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