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The Beginner's Goodbye

Cover of The Beginner's Goodbye

The Beginner's Goodbye

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Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel in which she explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances--in their house, on the roadway, in the market.

Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron has spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, independent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly, he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage.

But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy's unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace.

Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family's vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye.

A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler's humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.


From the Hardcover edition.

Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel in which she explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances--in their house, on the roadway, in the market.

Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron has spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, independent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly, he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage.

But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy's unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace.

Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family's vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye.

A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler's humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    The strangest thing about my wife's return from the dead was how other people reacted.

    We were strolling through Belvedere Square, for instance, on an early-­spring afternoon when we met our old next-­door neighbor, Jim Rust. "Well, what do you know," he said to me. "Aaron!" Then he noticed Dorothy beside me. She stood peering up at him with one hand shielding her forehead from the sun. His eyes widened and he turned to me again.

    I said, "How's it going, Jim?"

    Visibly, he pulled himself together. "Oh . . . great," he said. "I mean . . . or, rather . . . but of course we miss you. Neighborhood is not the same without you!"

    He was focusing on me alone--­specifically, on my mouth, as if I were the one who was talking. He wouldn't look at Dorothy. He had pivoted a few inches so as to exclude her from his line of vision.

    I took pity on him. I said, "Well, tell everybody hello," and we walked on. Beside me, Dorothy gave one of her dry chuckles.

    Other people pretended not to recognize either one of us. They would catch sight of us from a distance, and this sort of jolt would alter their expressions and they would all at once dart down a side street, busy-­busy, much to accomplish, very important concerns on their minds. I didn't hold it against them. I knew this was a lot to adjust to. In their position, I might have behaved the same way. I like to think I wouldn't, but I might have.

    The ones who made me laugh aloud were the ones who had forgotten she'd died. Granted, there were only two or three of those--­people who barely knew us. In line at the bank once we were spotted by Mr. von Sant, who had handled our mortgage application several years before. He was crossing the lobby and he paused to ask, "You two still enjoying the house?"

    "Oh, yes," I told him.

    Just to keep things simple.

    I pictured how the realization would hit him a few minutes later. Wait! he would say to himself, as he was sitting back down at his desk. Didn't I hear something about . . . ?

    Unless he never gave us another thought. Or hadn't heard the news in the first place. He'd go on forever assuming that the house was still intact, and Dorothy still alive, and the two of us still happily, unremarkably married.



    I had moved in by then with my sister, who lived in our parents' old place in north Baltimore. Was that why Dorothy came back when she did? She hadn't much cared for Nandina. She thought she was too bossy. Well, she was too bossy. Is. She's especially bossy with me, because I have a couple of handicaps. I may not have mentioned that. I have a crippled right arm and leg. Nothing that gets in my way, but you know how older sisters can be.

    Oh, and also a kind of speech hesitation, but only intermittently. I seldom even hear it, myself.

    In fact, I have often wondered what made Dorothy select the moment she did to come back. It wasn't immediately after she died, which is when you might expect. It was months and months later. Almost a year. Of course I could have just asked her, but somehow, I don't know, the question seemed impolite. I can't explain exactly why.

    One time we ran into Irene Lance, from my office. She's the design person there. Dorothy and I were returning from lunch. Or I had had lunch, at least, and Dorothy had fallen into step beside me as I was walking back. And suddenly we noticed Irene approaching from St. Paul. Irene was hard to miss. She was always the most elegant woman on the street, not that that was much of a challenge in Baltimore. But she would have seemed elegant anywhere. She was tall and ice-­blonde, wearing a long, flowing...

About the Author-
  • Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her nineteenth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine A new novel by Anne Tyler is always a reason to celebrate. As always, her exploration of everyday tragedy and the way people learn to cope with loss is, at times, comic, wise, and heartbreaking. Narrator Kirby Heyborne inhabits the forlorn Aaron and his dead wife, Dorothy, with a searing depiction of middle-class America and the drama of how a single random act can change everything. Heyborne's pacing of the dialogue between the main characters is realistic and emotionally engaging. The pain of Aaron's grief penetrates Heyborne's performance. The novel imparts the wisdom we all gain through loss, and Heyborne's narration resonates with the listener long after the last words are spoken. R.O. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine
  • Boston Globe

    "An absolute charmer of a novel about grief, healing, and the transcendent power of love . . . With sparkling prose and undeniable charm, Tyler gets at the beating heart of what it means to lose someone, to say goodbye, and to realize how we are all, perhaps, always ultimate beginners in the complex business of life . . . A dazzling meditation on marriage, community, and redemption."

  • Los Angeles Times "A pleasure to read . . . Classic Tyler . . . The wonder of Anne Tyler is how consistently clear-eyed and truthful she remains about the nature of families and especially marriage."
  • USA Today
    "Like a modern Jane Austen, Tyler creates small worlds where she depicts in minutest detail the intimate bonds of friendship and family."
  • Jennifer Weiner "Anne Tyler is one of our national treasures, and The Beginner's Goodbye puts all of her skills on display: her warmth and wit, her generous embrace of her flawed characters, her clear-eyed observations about the inner workings of a marriage and the enduring bonds between brothers and sisters, husbands and wives."
  • San Francisco Chronicle
    "The Beginner's Goodbye is the purest distillation of an Anne Tyler novel imaginable."
  • Anita Shreve "Anne Tyler has no peer. Her books just keep getting better and better. In The Beginner's Goodbye, I was surprised, intrigued, and delighted at every turn."
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    "Anne Tyler never disappoints . . . Her insights about life, love, aging, marriage, siblings, grief, and unexpected happiness grow richer and deeper with each passing year and book."
  • Julia Glass, New York Times Book Review
    "Over five decades of exuberant shape-shifting across the fictional landscape, Anne Tyler has cut the steady swath of a literary stalwart, writing novel after novel whose most memorable characters inhabit a cosmos all their own . . . What makes each story distinctive is the particular way its characters rebel against hereditary confines, cope with fateful crises, or forge relationships with new acquaintances who rock their world . . . Once again, Tyler exhibits her genius for the incisive, savory portrayal of marriage."
  • Sunday Times (UK) "This is what Tyler does better than almost any contemporary writer. She peers at the forgotten areas of the everyday, the bits that are hard to pinpoint, yet make up the bulk of our lives and relationships. And this, ultimately, is why she is such a satisfying writer: she looks at people--at life--from the inside out. This is a book not just about grief, but about hope . . . The Beginner's Goodbye is diverting, certainly, but also deeply rewarding. There is, in short, no guilt in the pleasure of a new Tyler. We can only hope for many, many more."
  • Entertainment Weekly
    "Beautifully intricate. By the exquisitely romantic emotional climax, Aaron's ordinary life has bloomed into an opera."
  • Chicago Tribune "Its insights will keep you up nights. . . . Ranks high in the hierarchy of Tyler's works. And what a lineup that is."
  • More magazine "
    "Warm, smart, deliciously written."
  • Library Journal "As always, Pulitzer Prize winner Tyler brilliantly explores a stunning range of human emotion, poignantly considering the challenges of death while creating lovable characters whose foibles capture our hearts. Essential reading."
  • Daily Telegraph (UK) "One of the things that makes Tyler's work so radiant is that she seems to believe that people are inherently good and that, thanks to that goodness, ordinary lives can contain moments of great beauty, dignity, and hope. The Beginner's Goodbye has all three . . . [Told] with characteristic warmth, sympathy and wisdom."
  • Booklist (starred) "A scintillating gem of a novel . . . Exceptionally lithe and sparkling . . . A funny, sweet, and wise tale of lost and found love."
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