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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I started reading Anne Tyler's books about 15 years ago when she was recommended by two of my favourite authors at the time, Nick Hornby and Roddy Doyle. I fell in love with her understated, engaging style and quickly worked my way through her entire back-catalogue. Regretfully her more recent releases have not been amongst my favourites and I've occasionally re-read a few of the old classics to remind myself how good she could be. Thankfully, her latest novel, The Beginner's Goodbye, (actually at 198 pages I`m not sure if it's more of novella?) has restored my faith and in my opinion it's definitely a case of `small but perfectly formed`.

When we meet our narrator Aaron Woolcott his wife Dorothy has recently died in a freak accident. I warmed to Aaron from the start and by the end of the book he was up there with my two favourite male Tyler characters - Macon from The Accidental Tourist and Barnaby Gaitlin from A Patchwork Planet. Always a bit of an outsider due to the deformed arm and leg he was left with after a childhood illness, Aaron has constantly had to battle against the patronage and condescension of others, as well as the mollycoddling inflicted by his over-protective mother and sister. When he meets Dorothy, a dour, practical woman who "never saw the point of socialising" something clicks between them and their marriage, if not exactly made in heaven, certainly seems to work for the two of them.

Dorothy's death when an oak tree falls on their sun porch leaves a gaping hole in Aaron's life (not to mention his roof), and when she starts appearing to him in random places it brings him a strange sort of comfort. It's also an escape from the well-meaning friends and family who are rallying round with offers of food and social engagements and, inevitably, misguided matchmaking advice.

For me this was vintage Tyler, quirky and endearing with some beautifully observed characters and situations. Although it was a fairly quick read and it might not be frantic or exciting enough for some readers, I was completely absorbed in it and I'm so pleased that one of my favourite authors has produced such a little gem.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Aaron Woolcott's wife, Dorothy, has been killed in a bizarre accident at their home. The story starts with him noting the strange reactions of other people when they see her with him some months after her death. Mostly they refuse to look at her and concentrate their attention on him. Aaron finds this odd but presumes that they are embarrassed or don't know how to behave. He wonders why Dorothy comes to visit him, but doesn't like to ask in case she stops coming.

The book takes us slowly through the aftermath of Dorothy's death giving us glimpses of their relationship in Aaron's flashbacks as he tries to cope with life. His family, neighbours and acquaintances all rally round to support him in his bereavement, but he is stoical and, while attempting not to hurt them, rebuffs their help. Gradually his view of the past unravels and a resolution is reached.

The widow/widower receiving comfort from their dead partner has been covered before in films such as Truly, Madly, Deeply, but the emotional element has been pared down to the minimum in Aarons's aloof and reticent narration. Yet, thanks to Tyler's expert handling, we learn a lot about Aaron, much more than he thinks he is telling us.

The crits on the cover of this book call it a comedy and in the purely academic meaning of the word - any story in which the main characters manage to avert an impending disaster and have a happy ending, in other words the opposite of tragedy - it is. It is also not without humour but, I think, it is a profoundly serious book dealing with a very difficult subject and it does that beautifully without sounding any false notes. Although the anguish, grief and disassociation from life that the death of a lover causes are accurately and painfully expressed, the book is upbeat and life affirming. So, not a laugh a minute, but a true comedy.
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on 5 September 2013
A short, poignant account of a young widower, Aaron, who struggles to come to terms with his wife Dorothy's death in a freak accident, when she begins to appear as if alive and well at short intervals, and in unexpected places, like outside their house where she died, or at a mall sitting companionably next to Aaron. These visits become more prolonged and eventually she speaks, as if to tell him something important about their relationship.

In her usual way of imbibing her characters with distinctive traits, Tyler's protagonist, Aaron suffers from a disability brought on by a childhood illness that affects his gait, requiring a brace and a cane, which he has never quite gotten used to relying on, while Dorothy is fiercely independent, forthright, and an atypically "unnurturing" doctor. They are as mismatched as chalk and cheese, and Dorothy's reappearance forces Aaron to work through his grief to honestly confront the imperfections of their marriage, without the rose-tinted memories the bereaved tend to cherish.

Of course initially, he insists: "I liked to dwell on these shortcomings now. It wasn't only that I was wondering why they had ever annoyed me. I was hoping they would annoy me still, so that I could stop missing her", which casts these visitations in a romantic light. However, he acknowledges later: "Then why was our marriage so unhappy? / Because it was unhappy. I will say that now. Or it was difficult, at least. Out of sync. Uncoordinated. It seemed we just never quite got the hang of being a couple the way other people did. We should have taken lessons or something; that's how I felt."

Tyler retains her distinctive style of using deceptively simple prose that resonates deep and profound truths in this novel, but for some reason, I could not get a clear mental picture of Aaron, and pictured a slightly doddering 60 year old, rather than the 30ish he was meant to be, which is a sore point with me, because one of Tyler's strengths is her vivid characterisation. At some point, Aaron's colleagues and sister at the publishing firm inherited from his dad, blended into a noisy blur, and at pivotal points in the novel, I found I could not distinguish between two of the women, Irene and Peggy, and had to revisit earlier mentions of them. Perhaps I wasn't reading closely enough, but this novel still did not match up (in my mind) to her other works like "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant", "Earthly Possessions", or "Saint Maybe", just to name three from her impressive oeuvre of work.
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VINE VOICEon 4 April 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've never read an Anne Tyler book before, but found the blurb inside the front cover of her new novel intriguing. The opinions on the back lead one to expect something funny, profound and moving. I'm sorry to say that I found "The Beginner's Goodbye" no more than OK, and am left wondering whether the quotes on the back come from reviews of this book or some of the author's earlier works.
This very short novel - a little less than 200 pages - is set in Baltimore and tells the story of narrator Aaron Woolcott's grief for his wife Dorothy, who dies when a tree falls onto their home and crushes her. If I liked the book as much as the critics seem to want me to, I suppose I would say that it is a gentle but poignant comedy. The manner of Dorothy's death is one of the few extraordinary events in the book; most of the time both the characters and the plot are fairly believable, and the comedy, such as it is, arises quite naturally. The book may help readers to think about how one should deal with people mourning a loved one; Aaron is quite a prickly customer, and many of the minor characters come unstuck when they try to help Aaron adjust to his new situation.
So why didn't I positively like the book? In the first place both the blurb and the first few pages mislead the reader into expecting something vaguely supernatural (the first sentence in particular), but after some early teasing we have to wait until the novel is around half way through for Dorothy's first post mortem reappearance. I might perhaps have enjoyed the first half more if I hadn't been waiting for this reappearance to happen. And, after waiting for so long, it eventually came as something of an anti-climax, whereas if I hadn't been led to expect it I might have been more disturbed by the event, as well as paying more attention to what I had expected at first to be no more than a brief back-story. Such pleasures as are to be had from this novel probably require quite careful reading, appreciating small details, and the nuances of everyday interactions and conversations between the characters; probably the most significant moment of Aaron's "moving on" occurs when he re-evaluates his way of dealing with other people, and the value of one particular person, after eating some home-made chocolate chip cookies. Some readers (perhaps mostly female ones?) will probably really appreciate the delicacy and subtlety of such moments, but I'm afraid they left me underwhelmed.
This isn't a bad book, but it is a book about a marriage, and what comes before and after (courtship and bereavement). If you read "The Beginner's Goodbye" expecting supernatural or paranormal fireworks you will probably be disappointed.
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on 5 July 2015
Look, I enjoy Anne Tyler's writing, this is my second book of hers but I'm halfway through and I have to say the plot is almost exactly the same as the first book I read of hers, The Accidental Tourist. In both books the main character is a middle-aged man who works in the area of producing self help type guidebooks and whose wife leaves him in some way and who ends up going to live with his sister, who in turn starts to fall in love with his boss / contractor.
In both cases he comes from an eccentric family with a number of siblings who all act in the same unusual ways, in both books his house is in disrepair which is another reason that he has to move out. She is a good writer but as no one else spotted at least in these two cases she is repeating the same book?
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VINE VOICEon 12 January 2014
'The Beginner's Goodbye' is a wonderful piece of storytelling and the perfect example of what power can be conveyed in a deceptively easy to read and relatively short novel.

Anne Tyler unravels the various emotions that we rollercoaster through during a bereavement, and yet her story is so well-told and so light in terms of touch that it never becomes maudlin or over sentimental. The characters and settings are well-drawn and totally believable, and as the book progresses the move from dark to light is also life-affirming and heart-warming on several levels.

Much of this is down to Tyler's pared down style. Almost poetic in places, she gives you just enough to let you fill in some of the spaces, and some of the reflections here on life, death, loss and the importance of being in the moment are handled with more integrity and honesty than any self-help manual could ever deliver. If you want to see the importance of the novel as a way of exploring universal themes like this, then you should read this book.

With such an effective, under-stated style of writing, it's no wonder that amongst Tyler's fans are Nick Hornby and Roddy Doyle. Both of them, in my view, write woefully awful and over-rated books themselves, but they clearly know quality when they see it.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This delightful slim volume is the work of a just few hours to take in. Here quality truly wins over quantity. The cover is a gorgeous painting of wisteria blossoming in the warm sunshine.

Anne Tyler is a long time favourite of mine; she just goes on and on getting it right. `The Beginner's Goodbye' is excellence in action, a gem to treasure.

The only surprise is that the widower Aaron is just thirty-six. Dorothy, whose untimely death leaves him struggling manfully on, was eight years his senior. Aaron comes across as an older man by far, perhaps because of his disability, although he would never recognise that as a reason. Comfortably situated in his family firm which publishes `vanity' works; his firm's best line is the `Beginner's Guide' series, little books on wide ranging topics which just about cover every eventuality. Except for this one. Seeing Dorothy, conversing with her and learning more about their marriage - after she has died.

Actors say that one way to get into character is to wear the appropriate shoes. Here Dorothy stepped off the page, vividly alive for me when I read: "those orthopedic (sic)-type shoes she had favored: they had struck me at times, as self righteous, her high mindedness - a pointed reproach to the rest of us."

Both these guys are slightly odd. Almost autistic and "Mixed Company" as Aaron later comes to think of their marriage. Dorothy was not a `care-taker' despite being a doctor. So we relax into realism not fairy tale. And Aaron is such a downright genuine chap. The way he deals with grief is just, well, so utterly male. I recognised his stubborn way of thinking and coping - he is quite perfectly, reliably written.

Nandina, his sister, is a side dish to savour. She is the bee's knees of siblings. The staff in his office fuss about him in a sweetly concerned way. Casseroles pile up, thanks have to be given and arrangements made. The angels conspire and life resumes. All off in a different direction, and a wholly satisfactory one too. I plain loved it all.
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on 29 July 2012
I couldn't put this book down. It is Anne Tyler at her very best, the characters are so real and the story of Aaron and Dorothy's marriage unfolds throughout the book. You think you know what their relationship was like but as you learn more, there are a few surprises along the way. It's a story of bereavement and loss but told in such a way that it isn't depressing, if anything it is uplifting and life affirming. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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on 23 May 2013
I thought it was a pleasant, quirky read but felt that the way the characters were described made them come across as considerably older than they eventually turned out to be. The main character 'felt' like a man in his 50's and was in fact in his 30's, the character Peggy appeared to be an old 'spinster' possibly in her 50's but transpired to be of child bearing age, same with Nadina. Perhaps it was also to do with their old fashioned names or maybe I just missed where the ages were mentioned earlier on. It just felt disorientating and a bit misleading, perhaps intentionally, I'm not sure but having read hundreds of books it's a phenomena I've never encountered before!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Dorothy dies when a tree falls on the house. Aaron tries to adjust to life without her, only to find she is still around....

So easily this novel could have been mawkish, but is nothing of the kind. Tender and true, it tells of a couple out of sync - both with each other and everyone else. Exceptionally tall, Aaron stammers, his right arm and leg with problems; Dorothy is short with "the social skills of a panda" (according to his sister Nandina). Absurdly ill-matched? Details of their awkward courtship and marriage charm and amuse.

Now she is gone, what to do? Aaron's family printing firm specializes in vanity projects (details very funny) and a comprehensive Beginner's Guide to almost everything. Ironically the topics have yet to cover bereavement. Aaron is to learn from experience.

Perfectly the author nails how people react in such circumstances - embarrassed avoiding, faces suitably solemn, forced jollity, well meant intentions that misfire and embarrass. So many readers will be able to identify, having been at the receiving end or not knowing how to be when others suffer loss.

A tale about letting go and moving on, the reappearances of Dorothy with their part to play - an opportunity for unfinished business, perhaps to say what long ago should have been said.

The book warms and delights. Wholeheartedly recommended.

(P.S. Aaron struck lucky with those builders!)
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