The Beginner’s Goodbye

By Anne Tyler

(Knopf, Doubleday, $24.95, 208 pages)

Who is this author?

These days, when authors are routinely called upon to be showmen as well as writers, Anne Tyler is something of an anomaly. She won’t do face-to-face interviews or read from her work in public or go on book-promotion tours. She prefers to let her books speak for themselves, and they certainly do. She has now written 19 novels, one of which, her 11th, “Breathing Lessons,” won a Pultizer Prize for fiction in 1988. Her titles also include “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,” “The Accidental Tourist” and “The Amateur Marriage.” Born in Minneapolis but reared in Raleigh, she now lives in Baltimore.

What is this book about?

Love and grief are inexhaustibly attractive subjects for novelists, and Tyler is no exception. In this one, she gives us Aaron, a vanity-press publisher of “Beginners” books – similar to the “Dummies” series, but by self-published writers. He is a youngish widower whose doctor wife has been killed in a freakish accident. Aaron has long had a crippled arm and leg, and following Dorothy’s death, he moves in with his overbearing sister. Perhaps that is why Dorothy suddenly reappears in his life, from time to time. Or at least, Aaron thinks she does. After all, he is new at this widower thing. He could use a beginner’s book on grieving. With Dorothy’s help from beyond, or perhaps his own strength from within, he begins to learn how to let go.

Why you’ll like it:

Tyler does the funny-but-sad thing very well. She can inject gentle humor into the saddest of situations, which helps to illuminate the considerable ironies to be found in the human comedy. Aaron and Dorothy are both engaging characters, and through them, Tyler teaches us again in her sure-handed way that love does not have to be perfect to be wonderful and life’s tribulations can be handled one small step at a time.

What others are saying:

Amazon Best Books of the Month review says: “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.” So begins Anne Tyler’s new novel, which documents the days of Aaron Woolcott after the unexpected loss of his wife, Dorothy. And as arresting as the first sentence is, it’s also a bit worrying. So many clichés could follow. Will Aaron resolve his grief through poetic moonlit walks with the apparition of his lost wife? Thankfully, this is Anne Tyler. And the ghost of Dorothy, like all Tyler’s characters, has a kind of rich, eccentric depth that sits opposite to the expected. Aaron’s recovery after his wife’s death conveys all the subtle hallmarks of Tyler’s style, where a flawed man must learn how to do a very difficult thing–say a final goodbye.”

“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,” says novelist Julia Glass in the New York Times Book Review.

“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,” says the Boston Globe.

Says Publishers Weekly: “…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 … 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.”

When is it available?

You can say hello to “The Beginner’s Goodbye” at the Downtown Hartford Public Library or the Albany, Camp field or Mark Twain branches.

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