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The Beginner's Goodbye
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 March 2012
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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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 12 March 2013
The storyline starts with two vey different people; a publisher and a doctor who come together as a couple and marry.One day she comes home from work to find her husband full of cold and ill and as she's not the sympathetic type she retreats to the sun lounge where an old oak tree from the garden falls onto the sun lounge, and makes the televsion fall on top of her...she dies. The husband cannot stand to be in the house whilst the repairs are going on so he releuctantly goes and lives with his 'over the top' sister who falls for the workman renovating her brothers house.
Then the wife who has died starts to appear as a spirit to her husband until one day she doesn't appear any more. He then ends up with a woman in the publishing office and thats the end.

Very long drawn outstory, I have never skimmed the pages of a book before like I did reading this one.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 March 2012
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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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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 June 2012
I have little patience these days for novels that don't make the effort to pull me in within the first thirty or forty pages. My bookshelves are full of the unread evidence.
So I'm happy to report that while The Beginner's Goodbye might not be Anne Tyler's finest novel (far from it to be honest) it does grab you in the first couple of pages and holds you (though for once it's not that far) right to the last page.
Aaron, our hero, is an archetypal Tyler character. Nothing wrong with that. He's tall, somewhat disabled, has social difficulties. But he's attractive and stubborn, and works with books, so he can't be all bad. The plot is that his relatively new wife dies in a dramatic (for AT) way, and Aaron has to find a way to get over it.
In the process, his wife `returns', at least to him, though this isn't a huge part of the novel really. I was glad about that.
This is a short novel that focuses on Aaron. That's why it's short I guess; Anne Tyler often explores a huge family over a long period of time. But this novel is pretty much one or two people over a short time so she doesn't need as many pages.
I enjoyed reading it, felt somewhat moved at times, liked the familiar quirky characters, the family publishing house where Aaron works, the old-fashioned, but not old folks who look after each other and do a lot of baking. Familiar `milk and cookies' territory as AT herself would no doubt admit.
But it did seem `novella' slight to me, and a bit sketchy and brief. Which I wouldn't have minded so much had I not been bothered all the way through by Aaron. I need a voice for my characters when I'm reading, and I never found one for Aaron. The trouble is, I have a voice for Anne Tyler the third-person narrator, and I couldn't get her out of my head - because Aaron thinks and talks like a seventy year-old woman! Was that the intention? Or was it a failing on Tyler's part to make her narrator feel like a man? Out of loyalty I would love to say it's the former, but I would be giving her the benefit of the doubt when she doesn't for once deserve it.
It's a problem. But it still didn't manage to spoil The Beginner's Goodbye for me, an Anne Tyler fan who's read everything she's written, and always will. But this is by no means her best novel. Not even close.
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on 21 August 2013
On 1st April 2012, I was among the audience of around 1000 in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford when Anne Tyler was presented with the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence. It was my first day as a full-time writer and sitting on a window ledge high above the stage, with the sun warming the back of my neck, I couldn't think of a better way to start my new career. Tyler speaks as she writes: so quietly and gently that you have to listen closely to catch the passion in her words.

Like all her novels, The Beginner's Goodbye is set in Baltimore. It tells the story of Aaron and Dorothy in flashbacks as Aaron struggles to come to terms with his wife's death in her early forties following an accident in their home. They are a couple who seem well-suited, if only because they are both prickly, uncomfortable people, socially inept; in fact typical Tyler characters. We see the minutiae of their lives, the tiny details that are Tyler's trademark. There is a poignant scene where Aaron writes thank-you letters to everyone who has written, brought him meals or helped out after the accident. He obviously resents all the intrusions, would rather be left alone, and yet is human enough to comment: 'The casseroles started thinning out and the letters stopped. Could people move on that easily?'

This novel is shorter and seems much quieter than some of her earlier ones. The family is still dysfunctional, but it is smaller than those in, for example, The Clock Winder or Back When We Were Grownups. It is easier to keep track of the characters and they are as beautifully-drawn as ever. Aaron is the first-person narrator, which is unusual for Tyler, who tends to write in the third person.

In an interview with USA Today just after this book was published, Tyler said: "As always in my novels, the events I described had nothing to do with any part of my life." But, she continues, "I've noticed that my books do reflect certain stages of my life." Tyler was widowed in 1997 and for me, the most telling phrase in the book was: 'That was one of the worst things about losing your wife, I found: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with.'

Despite the subject matter, this is not a depressing book. It is a wonderfully-observed commentary on two fairly ordinary people and their friends and family. It is also full of Tyler's gentle humour. This would be a great introduction for someone new to Anne Tyler's works.
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on 20 April 2013
I got into Anne Tyler via The Accidental Tourist, and liked it so much that I bought and read the rest of her novels too. Unfortunately, none of them really matched up to The Accidental Tourist, so, although I enjoyed them all, I was still a little disappointed - always looking for something extra, but never quite finding it. But, with this book, Tyler once again delivers a book at least as good as The Accidental Tourist, and in some ways better. This could well be Anne Tyler's best so far.

And, on top of that, this is a fairly rare Tyler book in that you don't need to be a Tyler fan to be ready for it. It's such a well crafted novel (and with such a good hook), that you could have never heard of Anne Tyler and still really enjoy it.

Having said that, it's still a typical Tyler novel in many ways. It's central character, as always in her books, is someone who is slightly dysfunctional and rather self-deluded, not a character you're likely to warm to or care about, but part of Tyler's talent is that she makes you care about him. And, as always with her writing, nothing much actually happens, and what little does happen, seems to happen very slowly!

This is false in some ways, because when you look back when you've finished one of her books, you often find to your surprise that a lot DID happen. But at the time of reading it just feels like life is chugging along in no particular hurry and in no particular direction. Tyler takes this to extremes in some of her books, where there doesn't seem to be a beginning or even an end to the story, but just a middle that trundles along for a few hundred pages. It's still a good read, but you get this odd aftertaste at the end where you feel vaguely let-down because there was no real ending, it feels as if she just stopped writing, leaving most of her characters in mid-story.

But in this book, there is most definitely a beginning, and a nicely satisfying end. It is the most 'complete' (and perhaps 'conventional') Tyler novel I've read. Although, even here, she breaks most of the rules of writing a story. Before you even start you know what's happened, just by reading the jacket, but the story actually starts mid-way through, and you don't get the beginning (the house being hit by a tree) until nearly half way through. And the very theme of the story, the aspect the blurb on the back makes most of (the reappearance of his dead wife) is not gone into in much more detail than you already know!

Although, at the same time, this thread of the story IS the story, without it there would be no real story, and certainly no proper ending. But his dead wife actually appears very few times and only for brief moments - not the impression you get from the blurb, or indeed from the beginning of the story, at all. In fact most of this book is classic Tyler, with life just chugging along, and nothing much appearing to happen - only it does.

As you are no doubt starting to realise by now, it's almost impossible to describe a Tyler book! So don't read any more reviews, just buy the book - you won't be disappointed, and you'll be back for more.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler for me was a wonderful book which I thoroughly enjoyed from the first page. I loved everything about it from the excellent writing to the wonderful characters who the author showed the reader in an open and relaxing way which had me caring for each of them especially the main characters Aaron and his wife Dorothy though we seen more of Dorothy's spirit rather than her human side.
It was clear from the book that both characters Aaron and Dorothy were happier when they were alone together and that social gatherings for both of them were difficult to feel comfortable in. Aaron had a physical disability which came from a childhood illness and because of this his sister Nandina was very protective of Aaron and treated him more like a child rather than a grown adult. But Aaron was strong willed and would not let his disability hold him back throughout his life.
Dorothy was killed in a terrible household accident which left Aaron not knowing how to cope in life without her but as the book progresses we follow Aaron as he goes through the many stages of grieving that many of us recognise. Aaron did not want to let Dorothy go and in his own mind he could see her as he continued in his daily life. Aaron cannot understand why he is the only one that sees her as far as he is concerned she is as alive as he is. Throughout the book Dorothy pops up when you are at least expecting it as Aaron communicates with Dorothy we hear of Dorothy's life with Aaron earlier on in their marriage as she makes her 'visits'. What was interesting for me how the author described how Aaron's life continued while he was still seeing Dorothy and his total misconceptions of everyones reactions to him as far as he is concerned that Dorothy is still alive and well in his head alone.
This is a short book which will keep the reader's attention engaged as we follow Aaron coping with many of the well wishers and Dorothy watching over him guiding him along the way. We also meet Aaron's work colleagues in the family publishing firm he runs along with his sister and these provide a few comic moments. The publishing firm was well known for publishing "Beginner's guide" to every stage and event in life. When I was reading this book not only did I enjoy an excellent book of fiction, the information which was given through Aaron going through his own grieving it was like a Beginners guide to Grieving as the author touched on each emotion many people go through when they loose a loved one.
I loved the innocence of the book especially of Aaron and those around them, this was a wonderful read which when I did finish reading it I had a smile on my face as it is one of those books which will make you feel relaxed and happy within.
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler is a lovely read and I highly recommend to all readers who love fiction or if they just want a nice quiet relaxing read this book would be most suitable.
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VINE VOICEon 19 March 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Aaron Woolcott loses his wife Dorothy suddenly one day, after a tragic accident at their home that leaves a lot of it damaged. This novel charts the time after her death as friends and family try and help him in their own ways. It also sees him looking back to when and how he and Dorothy first met. Then, almost a year after she passed away, one day Dorothy comes back from the dead and Aaron is somehow aware of her presence. He knows that to see a dead person would be considered 'crazy', he isn't a religious person, but as he points out, if you lost a loved one and then saw them again, 'you wouldn't question your sanity, because you couldn't bear to think this wasn't real.'

It's a moving story, narrated by Aaron throughout. He fills his days immediately after Dorothy's death with his work, at Woolcott Publishing, the family business. Looking back, he remembers the early days they spent together, how they related to each other then. At other times he thinks back on silly squabbles. It is evident that Aaron and Dorothy loved each other and like most couples they accepted each others quirks, indeed after Aaron being cosseted by his mother and sister whilst growing up, he embraces how Dorothy is different, and asks 'Is it any wonder I found Dorothy a breath of fresh air?...She was one of a kind'. He developed an illness when he was a two-year-old that left him with little use in his right leg or right arm. On the occasions when Dorothy is present after her death, Aaron notices that they start to argue. He doesn't extensively question why she is there, he tries to just appreciate it there and then, in the moment; somehow he just knows she is there, and he is glad of it:

'Think of when you're threading your way through a crowd with a friend - how, even if you don't look over, you somehow know your friend is keeping pace with you. That's what it was like with Dorothy. It's the best I can describe it.'

His sister Nandina encourages him to see that, at only age 36, one day he will want to pick up his life and find a new future, but that's further ahead than he can grasp in his early stages of grief. His neighbours leave meals for him that he can't hope to eat. The small team at the publishing firm all worry about him. I felt these supporting characters came to life, I could imagine them from the way Aaron describes them and their behaviour. The firm has had it's main success from a series of books entitled The Beginner's Guide to.. various subjects.

This novel is written with real warmth about people, relationships, families and love. It demonstrates how our perceptions of people we think we know well can be both confirmed and shattered too. The story is touching yet optimistic. It is warm-hearted and charming but not overly sweet or sentimental. Aaron is an enjoyable, thoughtful character to be in the company of. Like previous novels by this author, it is set in Baltimore, USA. At fewer than two hundred pages, it is fairly short and yet on closing the book, to me it felt complete and satisfying. A lovely read.
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