Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Review: "The Beginner's Goodbye" by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is back to fighting form with her bittersweet, charming new book about love, loss, and coming to terms with reality in relationships. Thirty-six-year-old Aaron Woolcott is a publisher and editor of his family's vanity press. Crippled at a young age by a weakness in his right side, he has spent most of his life fending off efforts of his mother and sister to take care of him. So when he meets Dorothy Rosales, a plain-spoken, independent oncologist who seems to have missed the caregiver gene, it's almost no wonder that they fall in love and get married. Aaron likes the fact that Dorothy doesn't try to take care of him, likes the simplicity of their lives together.

When a tree crashes into their house and kills Dorothy, Aaron is devastated, and unsure of just how to go on. Yet the more he thinks about all of the things he loved about Dorothy, the more he relives many of the tensions they had during their marriage. And when she suddenly starts reappearing to him—in their backyard, at the farmers' market, in a shopping mall—he realizes that dwelling on all of the "might have beens" won't help him to move on with his life, and he should cherish the memories they had.

Anne Tyler is one of the best writers around when it comes to creating quirky, flawed characters, yet she is at her best when she balances her characters' foibles with their stronger qualities. I found The Beginner's Goodbye tremendously heart-warming and enjoyable; although the characters aren't completely sympathetic, you can understand their motivations and why they react the way they do. The one thing I found interesting (and slightly off-putting from time to time) is that Aaron seemed much, much older than he was; I had to keep reminding myself he was only in his mid-30s through most of this book. But that fact didn't diminish my enjoyment of Tyler's latest.

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