Beginner's Goodbye (Tyler)

The Beginner's Goodbye
Ann Tyler, 2012
Knopf Doubleday
208 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307957276


Summary
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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—October 25, 1941
Where—Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Education—B.A., Duke University
Awards—Pulitzer Prize, 1989; National Book Critics Circle
   Award, 1986; PEN/Faulkner Award, 1983
Currently—lives in Baltimore, Maryland


Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis in 1941 but grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. This is Anne Tyler's eighteenth and most recent novel. Her eleventh book, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore. (From the publisher.)

More
Anne Tyler has had a very active imagination all her life. When she was a young girl, she would spend an hour or two after being put to bed every night fantasizing that she was a doctor. She imagined conversations with patients, and pictured their lives as she did so, considering both their illnesses and the intricacies of their backgrounds. She constructed little mental plays around these characters that she would whisper to herself in the dark—much to the chagrin of her brother, with whom she shared a room. "[H]e used to call out to our parents, 'Anne's whispering again!'" she once told Barnes&Noble.com. As much as she may have vexed her brother, she also believes that these fantasies helped her to develop into the beloved, award-winning novelist she is today.

Tyler's work is characterized by a meticulous attention to detail, a genuine love of her characters, and a quirky sense of humor. Her public persona is characterized by its own quirks, as well. She refuses to grant face-to-face interviews. She has never publicly read from any of her books. She does not do book signings or tours. All of this has lent a certain mystique to her novels, although Tyler has said that her reluctance to become a public figure status is actually the result of simple shyness, not to mention her desire for her writing to speak for itself. Fortunately, Anne Tyler's work speaks with a clear, fully-realized voice that does not require unnecessary elucidation by the writer.

Tyler published her first novel If Morning Ever Comes in 1964, and that singular voice was already in place. This astute debut that tracks the self-realization of a young man named Ben Joe Hawkins displayed Tyler's characteristic wit and gentle eccentricity right off the bat. Harper's declared the novel "a triumph," and Tyler was on her way to creating an impressive catalog of novels chronicling the every day hopes, fears, dreams, failures, and victories of small-town Americans. Having come of age, herself, in rural North Carolina, Tyler had particular insight into the lives of her characters. Each novel was a little shimmering gem, winning her a devoted following and public accolades that more than compensated for her refusal to appear in public. Her novel Earthly Possessions, the story of a housewife who is taken hostage by a young man during a bank robbery, was released the same year she won an award for "literary excellence and promise of important work to come" from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The book also went on to become a television movie starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff in 1999.

Acclaim
However, the most well-known adaptation of one of Tyler's novels arrived more than a decade earlier when The Accidental Tourist was made into an Academy Award winning film starring Geena Davis and William Hurt. Consequently, The Accidental Tourist is viewed by some as Tyler's signature novel, covering many of the writer's favorite themes: the push and pull of marriage, the appearance of a romantic eccentric, personal tragedy, and the quest to escape from the drudgery of routine. The Accidental Tourist won the National Book Critics Circle Award and hit number one on The New York Times Bestseller list.

Three years later, Tyler received the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons, which further explored themes of marriage and self-examination. Despite having won the prestigious Pulitzer, Tyler still refused to allow herself to be drawn into the spotlight. Quietly, contemplatively, she chose to continue publishing a sequence of uniformly fine novels, including Saint Maybe, Ladder of Years, and The Amateur Marriage.

A more recent novel, Digging to America (2006) reexamines many of her chief obsessions, while also possibly drawing upon a personal triumph—her marriage to Iranian psychiatrist and novelist Taghi Mohammad Modarressi—and the tragedy of his death in 1997. The novel follows the relationship between two families, the Iranian Yazdans and the all-American Donaldsons, as they become closer and closer and affect each other deeper and deeper over a succession of years. Digging to America is arguably Tyler's deepest and most profound work to date. It also delivers more of her peculiar brand of humor, which will surely please her longtime fans, thrilled that she continues spinning tales with the trademark attention to character that has distinguished her stories ever since she was a little girl, whispering to herself in the dark. Tyler may have decided to remain in the dark and out of the public eye, but the stories she has to tell have shed more than their share of light on the lives of her readers. (From Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews
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.
Publishers Weekly


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. —Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Evanston, IL
Library Journal


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....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.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. 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?

2. 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?

3. 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?

4. After Dorothy’s death, does Aaron fully grieve for her, or is he reluctant to accept what has happened?

5. Why does Dorothy reappear so many months after her death?

6. 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?

7. How does Dorothy act when she reappears? Why? Does her behavior indicate something about her character? About Aaron’s?

8. 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?

9. 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?

10. 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?

11. 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?

12. What is the significance of the book’s title?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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