The Beginner's Goodbye
April 2012 Indie Next List
— Nancy Drott, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX
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Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel in which she explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances—in their house, on the roadway, in the market.
Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, self-dependent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. 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 help him to live in the moment and to find some peace.
Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye.
A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler’s humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.
Praise For The Beginner's Goodbye…
“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.” —Boston Globe
“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.” —Los Angeles Times
“Like a modern Jane Austen, Tyler creates small worlds where she depicts in minutest detail the intimate bonds of friendship and family.” —USA Today
“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.” —Jennifer Weiner
“The Beginner’s Goodbye is the purest distillation of an Anne Tyler novel imaginable.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“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.” —Anita Shreve
“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.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“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.” —Julia Glass, New York Times Book Review
“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.” —Sunday Times (UK)
“Beautifully intricate. By the exquisitely romantic emotional climax, Aaron’s ordinary life has bloomed into an opera.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Its insights will keep you up nights. . . . Ranks high in the hierarchy of Tyler’s works. And what a lineup that is.” —Chicago Tribune
“Warm, smart, deliciously written.” —More magazine
“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.” —Library Journal
“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.” —Daily Telegraph (UK)
“A scintillating gem of a novel . . . Exceptionally lithe and sparkling . . . A funny, sweet, and wise tale of lost and found love.” —Booklist (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.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, Pick of the Week)
“Anne Tyler writes about real life, and in common with the finest fiction writers, such as William Trevor and Alice Munro, she does not engage with fantasy, as she is well aware that the ordinary is sufficiently bizarre . . . She is effortless, wise yet never knowing, and establishes a sense of having thought deeply about the given facts of any story . . . She is also sympathetic without being sentimental . . . Yet again she has articulated the supreme difficulties of human communication in a calmly insightful exploration of love and truth, grief and reality.” —Irish Times
Knopf Publishing Group, 9780307957276, 208pp.
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Aaron is handicapped on his right side as a result of a childhood illness. Why do you think the author chose to give her main character such a handicap? Is it significant—a symbol or metaphor—or entirely coincidental?
- Does the way that Aaron’s mother and sister treated him when he was growing up impact his character as an adult? Or explain why he might have married Dorothy?
- In Aaron’s recollections of initially meeting Dorothy and falling in love with her, he portrays himself as having been immediately besotted, though Dorothy herself seems less than scintillating. Is Aaron aware of this discrepancy?
- After Dorothy’s death, does Aaron fully grieve for her, or is he reluctant to accept what has happened?
- Why does Dorothy reappear so many months after her death?
- Aaron states early in the book (pages 11–12) that he is an atheist. Does this (lack of) belief shed any light on Dorothy’s appearances?
- How does Dorothy act when she reappears? Why? Does her behavior indicate something about her character? About Aaron’s?
- Beginning on page 175, Aaron reveals that his marriage to Dorothy was not, after all, ideal. Does this come as a surprise? Do you think this has something to do with Dorothy’s reappearances?
- Toward the end of the book (pages 194–5), Aaron reflects on Gil’s thoughts about his father’s reappearances (“I know Gil felt it was his father’s unfinished business that brought him, but what’s occurred to me lately is, couldn’t it have been Gil’s unfinished business?”). Do Aaron’s reflections suggest why Dorothy has reappeared?
- If so, what should the reader make of Aaron’s almost defensive remarks on the following page (“Do you imagine it hasn’t occurred to me that I might have just made Dorothy’s visits up?”)? What should we think of Nate’s comments on the page after that (“I think if you knew them well enough . . . you might be able to imagine what they would tell you even now”)? Do these comments indicate how Aaron has come to view Dorothy’s appearances?
- What are the possible ways to interpret the final paragraph of the book? Are the apparitions of Dorothy real, after all? Is Aaron deluded? Does the final paragraph suggest a “moral” to the story? Was a moral hinted at earlier?
- What is the significance of the book’s title?