I am a huge fan of purchasing Anne Tyler’s books. I assume some day I’ll read more of them and be a huge fan of reading them, too, but this was the first one I have actually read. I picked The Beginner’s Goodbye to read when I did because it was next on my pile of books from my boss; though it was chosen out of the chronological order I usually follow when reading her books. I should have read The Pickwick Papers but I just couldn’t do it. It’s too long.
The Beginner’s Goodbye is a love story, albeit the least romantic love story I have ever read. Aaron is the narrator, and he works at his family’s vanity publishing business, whose most successful publications have been “The Beginner’s….” series. You know, like the “For Dummies” series in real life. He has some sort of childhood deformity and has always been overprotected by his sister, which he finds suffocating. Somehow, he meets Dorothy, a very non-maternal lawyer, and he finds her lack of attention of his physical difficulties so refreshing he marries her. I was never quite sure while I was reading this book if Dorothy loved Aaron, but that’s probably because he was never sure if she loved him. She seemed like the kind of person who wouldn’t have married someone if she didn’t really want to, but perhaps I was mistaken. The story is told somewhat non-linearly, so we know at the beginning of the novel that Dorothy is dead, but we don’t find out right away how she died. It’s pretty terrible: a big tree falls into their house and kills her while Aaron is taking a nap in another part of the house. He sleeps through the whole thing because he is sick with a fever. When he wakes up there is a tree in the hallway and his wife is dead. And shortly thereafter he starts seeing his dead wife. But this isn’t really a ghost story, not really. It’s about saying goodbye to people and learning to accept change, and it was actually quite lovely, though maybe a little short. I would have loved to spend more time with Aaron and Dorothy while they were both alive, because their relationship was fascinating. It was clear they loved each other (at least I think so), but there was no sentimentality there, and I’m not sure why. The last time Aaron “sees” Dorothy’s ghost they finally say some of the things to each other that they never said when Dorothy was still alive, and Aaron seems to find a measure of peace from that. Overall, an enjoyable book, and I hope to get back to Anne Tyler again someday soon.
I thought that Dorothy was a doctor—part of an oncology team. Maybe I misremember. It’s a very good novel, I think. Tyler has written some stronger novels but even when you compare her best work with her other novels, she still exceeds my expectations for any contemporary novelist.
Yes Dorothy was a doctor, and I think you are right that she was an oncologist.