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The Beginner's Goodbye
Cover of The Beginner's Goodbye
The Beginner's Goodbye
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel about loss and recovery, pierced throughout with her humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.
 
Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron grew up fending off a sister who constantly wanted to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, an outspoken, independent young woman, she’s like a breath of fresh air. He marries her without hesitation, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. Aaron works at his family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead—in their house, on the roadway, in the market—help him to live in the moment and to find some peace. Gradually, Aaron discovers that maybe for this beginner there is indeed a way to say goodbye.
 
“Like a modern Jane Austen, Tyler creates small worlds [depicting] the intimate bonds of friendship and family.”—USA Today
 
“An absolute charmer of a novel . . . With sparkling prose . . . [Anne] Tyler gets at the beating heart of what it means to lose someone, to say goodbye.”—The Boston Globe
 
“Classic Tyler . . . The wonder of Anne Tyler is how consistently clear-eyed and truthful she remains about the nature of families and especially marriage.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“Beautifully intricate . . . By the exquisitely romantic emotional climax [an] ordinary life has bloomed into an opera.”—Entertainment Weekly
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel about loss and recovery, pierced throughout with her humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.
 
Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron grew up fending off a sister who constantly wanted to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, an outspoken, independent young woman, she’s like a breath of fresh air. He marries her without hesitation, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. Aaron works at his family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead—in their house, on the roadway, in the market—help him to live in the moment and to find some peace. Gradually, Aaron discovers that maybe for this beginner there is indeed a way to say goodbye.
 
“Like a modern Jane Austen, Tyler creates small worlds [depicting] the intimate bonds of friendship and family.”—USA Today
 
“An absolute charmer of a novel . . . With sparkling prose . . . [Anne] Tyler gets at the beating heart of what it means to lose someone, to say goodbye.”—The Boston Globe
 
“Classic Tyler . . . The wonder of Anne Tyler is how consistently clear-eyed and truthful she remains about the nature of families and especially marriage.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“Beautifully intricate . . . By the exquisitely romantic emotional climax [an] ordinary life has bloomed into an opera.”—Entertainment Weekly
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Excerpts-
  • From the book The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.

    We were strolling through Belvedere Square, for instance, on an early-­spring afternoon when we met our old next-­door neighbor, Jim Rust. “Well, what do you know,” he said to me. “Aaron!” Then he noticed Dorothy beside me. She stood peering up at him with one hand shielding her forehead from the sun. His eyes widened and he turned to me again.

    I said, “How’s it going, Jim?”

    Visibly, he pulled himself together. “Oh . . . great,” he said. “I mean . . . or, rather . . . but of course we miss you. Neighborhood is not the same without you!”

    He was focusing on me alone—­specifically, on my mouth, as if I were the one who was talking. He wouldn’t look at Dorothy. He had pivoted a few inches so as to exclude her from his line of vision.

    I took pity on him. I said, “Well, tell everybody hello,” and we walked on. Beside me, Dorothy gave one of her dry chuckles.

    Other people pretended not to recognize either one of us. They would catch sight of us from a distance, and this sort of jolt would alter their expressions and they would all at once dart down a side street, busy-­busy, much to accomplish, very important concerns on their minds. I didn’t hold it against them. I knew this was a lot to adjust to. In their position, I might have behaved the same way. I like to think I wouldn’t, but I might have.

    The ones who made me laugh aloud were the ones who had forgotten she’d died. Granted, there were only two or three of those—­people who barely knew us. In line at the bank once we were spotted by Mr. von Sant, who had handled our mortgage application several years before. He was crossing the lobby and he paused to ask, “You two still enjoying the house?”

    “Oh, yes,” I told him.

    Just to keep things simple.

    I pictured how the realization would hit him a few minutes later. Wait! he would say to himself, as he was sitting back down at his desk. Didn’t I hear something about . . . ?

    Unless he never gave us another thought. Or hadn’t heard the news in the first place. He’d go on forever assuming that the house was still intact, and Dorothy still alive, and the two of us still happily, unremarkably married.



    I had moved in by then with my sister, who lived in our parents’ old place in north Baltimore. Was that why Dorothy came back when she did? She hadn’t much cared for Nandina. She thought she was too bossy. Well, she was too bossy. Is. She’s especially bossy with me, because I have a couple of handicaps. I may not have mentioned that. I have a crippled right arm and leg. Nothing that gets in my way, but you know how older sisters can be.

    Oh, and also a kind of speech hesitation, but only intermittently. I seldom even hear it, myself.

    In fact, I have often wondered what made Dorothy select the moment she did to come back. It wasn’t immediately after she died, which is when you might expect. It was months and months later. Almost a year. Of course I could have just asked her, but somehow, I don’t know, the question seemed impolite. I can’t explain exactly why.

    One time we ran into Irene Lance, from my office. She’s the design person there. Dorothy and I were returning from lunch. Or I had had lunch, at least, and Dorothy had fallen into step beside me as I was walking back. And suddenly we noticed...
About the Author-
  • Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her nineteenth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 30, 2012
    In Tyler’s elegant 19th novel, Aaron is an editor at a vanity press with a crippled right arm and leg who thinks of himself as “unluckier but no unhappier” than anyone else. He meets Dorothy, a brisk, no nonsense doctor, while editing a medical tome, and they fall in love, marry, and muddle along until Dorothy dies in an accident that nearly destroys their home. Aaron moves in with his overprotective sister and begins seeing Dorothy’s ghost, spectral appearances that make him realize just how many fissures there were in their marriage. Tyler’s gentle style focuses on the details of daily life, and how the little things, both beautiful and ugly, contribute to the bigger picture. Tyler (Breathing Lessons, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988) portrays complex, difficult, loving individuals struggling to co-exist and find happiness together. This is no gothic ghost story nor chronicle of a man unraveling in his grief, but rather an uplifting tale of love and forgiveness. By the end of this wonderful book, you’ve lived the lives and loves of these characters in the best possible way. Agent: Jesseca Salky, Hannigan Salky Getzler. 150,000-copy announced first printing.

  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2012
    Though the plot finds a man in early middle age coming to terms with the death of his wife, the tone of this whimsical fable is so light that it practically floats off the page. Some might consider the latest from Tyler (Noah's Compass, 2010, etc.) typically wise and charming, while others will dismiss it as cloying. She employs a first-person narrator, a 36-year-old man named Aaron, who works for a small-family publishing firm that specializes in its Beginners series. "These were something on the order of the Dummies books, but without the cheerleader tone of voice," explains Aaron, who proceeds to offer the sort of insight that could come from almost any Tyler novel: "Anything is manageable if it's divided into small enough increments, was the theory, even life's most complicated lessons." At the start of the book, Aaron is in the beginning stages of mourning, after a tree crashed through his house and crushed his slightly older wife. She was a doctor; Aaron is "crippled" and something of an oddball. As Tyler's readers recognize, we are each of us crippled and oddball, deep down inside, and the fact that Aaron's was a marriage of misfits makes it no different from any other. Early on, Aaron receives visits from his dead wife, whom no one else can see, and whom he admits might well be a projection or an apparition. If he is an unreliable narrator, he is also a flawed one, often sounding more like a much older woman than like a man his age (very few of whom use terms like "busy-busy"). Mourning is both a rite of passage and a process of discovery for Aaron, who early worries that, "I can't do this...I don't know how. They don't offer any courses in this; I haven't had any practice," but who is ultimately not a tragic but comic figure, one who will (more or less) live happily ever after. An uncharacteristically slight work by a major novelist.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 1, 2012

    Although crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron has spent much of his life fending off his family's attempts to protect him from the world. A successful editor of a vanity press in Baltimore that publishes a series of beginner's guides to various subjects, Aaron one day finds himself falling in love with Dr. Dorothy Rosales, whom he has approached about helping to write The Beginner's Cancer. They soon end up married, but catastrophe strikes when a tree falls on their house and kills Dorothy. Unable to live in his house any longer because of memories and roof damage, Aaron goes to live with his sister. He moves through loss, despair, helplessness, and emotional paralysis until one day Dorothy appears to him in the street. Struggling with the meaning of her appearances, Aaron eventually comes to accept them as her way of both saying good-bye and helping him get over her death. VERDICT As always, Pulitzer Prize winner Tyler brilliantly explores a stunning range of human emotion, poignantly considering the challenges of death while creating lovable characters whose foibles capture our hearts. Essential reading. [See Prepub Alert, 9/30/11.]--Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Evanston, IL

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from February 15, 2012
    Tyler's bright charm resides in her signature blend of the serious with the larky. Adept at dissecting family life, she is also intrigued by lonely guys, the focus in The Accidental Tourist (1985), A Patchwork Planet (1998), and Noah's Compass (2009). Her newest variation on this theme is an exceptionally lithe, sparkling, and covertly philosophical tale, set, as all her novels are, in Baltimore. Hampered with a crippled leg and arm, Aaron has always refused to be coddled, fending off his guilt-ridden mother and strong-willed sister. He married Dorothy, a doctor, because he loved her brusqueness and pragmatism. He is devastated when she dies in a freak accident that destroys their house until Dorothy begins returning from beyond. These precious, if mysterious, encounters are all that matter to Aaron. He moves in with his sister, turns his wrecked house over to Gil, a sympathetic contractor, and barricades himself in his office at his family's vanity press to avoid frilly, cookie-baking, overly helpful Peggy. The press stays afloat by selling its Beginner's series, little how-to books that Tyler astutely uses to illuminate how ill-prepared we are for life's relentless demands. As Gil restores Aaron's home, Aaron slowly rebuilds his life in this funny, sweet, and wise tale of lost and found love. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: With a generous print run and ambitious national promotion, this scintillating gem of a novel will be one of Tyler's most popular hits.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)

  • Boston Globe

    "An absolute charmer of a novel about grief, healing, and the transcendent power of love . . . With sparkling prose and undeniable charm, Tyler gets at the beating heart of what it means to lose someone, to say goodbye, and to realize how we are all, perhaps, always ultimate beginners in the complex business of life . . . A dazzling meditation on marriage, community, and redemption."

  • Los Angeles Times "A pleasure to read . . . Classic Tyler . . . The wonder of Anne Tyler is how consistently clear-eyed and truthful she remains about the nature of families and especially marriage."
  • USA Today "Like a modern Jane Austen, Tyler creates small worlds where she depicts in minutest detail the intimate bonds of friendship and family."
  • Jennifer Weiner "Anne Tyler is one of our national treasures, and The Beginner's Goodbye puts all of her skills on display: her warmth and wit, her generous embrace of her flawed characters, her clear-eyed observations about the inner workings of a marriage and the enduring bonds between brothers and sisters, husbands and wives."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "The Beginner's Goodbye is the purest distillation of an Anne Tyler novel imaginable."
  • Anita Shreve "Anne Tyler has no peer. Her books just keep getting better and better. In The Beginner's Goodbye, I was surprised, intrigued, and delighted at every turn."
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "Anne Tyler never disappoints . . . Her insights about life, love, aging, marriage, siblings, grief, and unexpected happiness grow richer and deeper with each passing year and book."
  • Julia Glass, New York Times Book Review "Over five decades of exuberant shape-shifting across the fictional landscape, Anne Tyler has cut the steady swath of a literary stalwart, writing novel after novel whose most memorable characters inhabit a cosmos all their own . . . What makes each story distinctive is the particular way its characters rebel against hereditary confines, cope with fateful crises, or forge relationships with new acquaintances who rock their world . . . Once again, Tyler exhibits her genius for the incisive, savory portrayal of marriage."
  • Sunday Times (UK) "This is what Tyler does better than almost any contemporary writer. She peers at the forgotten areas of the everyday, the bits that are hard to pinpoint, yet make up the bulk of our lives and relationships. And this, ultimately, is why she is such a satisfying writer: she looks at people--at life--from the inside out. This is a book not just about grief, but about hope . . . The Beginner's Goodbye is diverting, certainly, but also deeply rewarding. There is, in short, no guilt in the pleasure of a new Tyler. We can only hope for many, many more."
  • Entertainment Weekly "Beautifully intricate. By the exquisitely romantic emotional climax, Aaron's ordinary life has bloomed into an opera."
  • Chicago Tribune "Its insights will keep you up nights. . . . Ranks high in the hierarchy of Tyler's works. And what a lineup that is."
  • More magazine "Warm, smart, deliciously written."
  • Library Journal "As always, Pulitzer Prize winner Tyler brilliantly explores a stunning range of human emotion, poignantly considering the challenges of death while creating lovable characters whose foibles capture our hearts. Essential reading."
  • Daily Telegraph (UK) "One of the things that makes Tyler's work so radiant is that she seems to believe that people are inherently good and that, thanks to that goodness, ordinary lives can contain moments of great beauty, dignity, and hope. The Beginner's Goodbye has all three . . . [Told] with characteristic warmth, sympathy and wisdom."
  • Booklist (starred) "A scintillating gem of a novel . . . Exceptionally lithe and sparkling . . . A funny, sweet, and wise tale of lost and found love."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred "Elegant . . . An uplifting tale of love and forgiveness. By the end of this wonderful book, you've lived the lives and loves of these characters in the best possible way."
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