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.
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
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.
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