Friday, March 16, 2012

book review: The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

The basics: The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler's nineteenth novel, is the story of Aaron and his wife Dorothy. After Dorothy dies, she visits Aaron.

My thoughts: The novel's first line introduces the reader beautifully to this quirky novel: "The strangest thing about my wife's return from the dead was how other people reacted." It clearly established what this novel isn't: a tearjerker about the death of a spouse, although it is tinged with sadness at times. While it is an examination of a marriage, it's more of a character study of Aaron, with his love for Dorothy being one of his defining characteristics. Aaron is also partially crippled and has been since childhood. He works with his sister, Nandina, at a publishing house whose emphasis is on publishing writers who will them to do so and their successful series of "Beginners" books.

Aaron's career serves as both a nice tie-in to the novel's title and an intriguing forum to pose questions about life and love. The minor characters who choose to pay to publish their own work in the belief their story is particularly powerful allow Aaron to ponder the ordinary versus the extraordinary. I particularly enjoyed this musing: "Why was it that so many men viewed their military service as the defining event of their lives?"

The Beginner's Goodbye is an interesting book, and it's one I was thoroughly engaged by while reading. It's not, however, a book I think I like very much. While there are certainly things I liked about it, particularly it's offbeat sense of humor coupled with its gentle examination of widowhood, it never came to be a complete work for me. In many ways, I think Anne Tyler is treading new ground here. It's a difficult novel to classify. She united many seemingly disparate classic novel traits in this short novel, but it didn't feel whole to me, despite my enjoyment of so many of its parts.

Favorite passage: "I used to toy with the notion that when we die we find out what our lives have amounted to, finally. I'd ever imagined that we could find that out when somebody else dies."

The verdict: This quirky novel was an interesting, quick read, but its meandering made it seem underdeveloped. Overall, it was an intriguing concept and well-written, but it ended up being quite ordinary. Still, I appreciated its wit and meditations of love and death.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 208 pages
Publication date: April 3, 2012 
Source: publisher

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9 comments:

  1. Sorry you did not enjoy this one as much as me. I like quirky sad-sack characters and Aaron worked well for me:) It was one of those stories that made me think about the good and bad times in a marriage.

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    1. Diane--I was glad to read your review and see what you liked about it. It didn't work for me, but there were many good parts!

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  2. Hmm, that's interesting that she's trying something new after so much success in the past. I loved Digging to America and had hoped to read some more of her books, but I think I'll go back to a few of the past ones.

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    1. Jenny--I'm eager to read more of her earlier stuff too.

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  3. I like quirky so I am thinking I would like this one. I also liked her other books although I haven't read anything from her in a really long time.

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    1. Ti--I thought I liked quirky, but this one was the wrong kind of quirky for me. I still want to go back and read more of her earlier stuff. It sounds more my speed:-)

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  4. I am not sure if I would like this one either. A novel needs to feel cohesive to me for me to really enjoy it, and a lot of quirky and fun events strung together without a strong thread might annoy the pants off of me! Very nice review today, by the way!

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    1. Zibilee, I'm not sure you would care for this one. I felt an emotional distance from the characters and it just didn't come together for me.

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  5. I read one Tyler in the past and had such high hopes for it because she is so prolific. Looks like this one might not be the next one for me to try either. Oh well!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!