Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Beginner's Goodbye (2012)

I found Anne Tyler's most recent novel to be surprisingly sad in many ways I'm not sure are so good, though by the same token I must acknowledge the profound effect it had on my mood. For one thing, it felt a bit like a retread of many ideas from perhaps her most successful novel, The Accidental Tourist. They are both built around the usual given, a quirky Baltimore slightly underclass family, but also in both the family is involved in a publishing business and successful series of books. From there the details diverge some: it is a vanity house in The Beginner's Goodbye, for example, as opposed to the slightly more legitimate travel guides of Accidental Tourist. It seemed hard to believe the size and nature of the "Beginner's" series (a kind of larky variation on "for Dummies" books), given the size of the staff combined with the size of the series implied by all the many different titles and subject areas mentioned, although it's possible that's the way things can go in vanity publishing ventures. The Accidental Tourist may have similar problems, but I never noticed. There is even a sister who at long last finds happiness. The story at hand in The Beginner's Goodbye concerns the brother, Aaron, who is younger, and recently widowed by the freak accident of a tree falling on their house. It is the first year or two after his wife's death and Aaron has begun to see her occasionally, back from the dead somehow, even exchanging some words with her sometimes, before she disappears. It should be the most unbelievable part of the book but instead it is the most convincing. That, in turn, lays a firm foundation for revelations about the relationship that contradict most of our initial assumptions. The relationship between Aaron and his dead wife Dorothy is the best part, flickering in and out with Dorothy herself. Then, after she is gone for good, a happy ending is made to this short novel. It's not very believable, it feels tacked-on and almost like a formal gesture of politeness. As if Tyler is asking forgiveness for going so deeply into the pain of losing what one had conceived was a lifetime partner, who turns out by circumstance to be anything but. Speak no ill of the dead, perhaps? It left me feeling foul.

In case it's not at the library.

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