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The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

This novel begins, “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.”

After her death, Aaron wonders if he can possibly continue without her.  As he sums it up, “That was one of the worst things about losing your wife: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with.”

Aaron works for his family’s publishing company, known for its series of “Beginner’s Books,” such as Beginner’s Book of Dog Training and Beginner’s Colicky Baby, which attempt to give basic information on a variety of subjects.  However, he has no idea how to deal with the problem of saying goodbye to his deceased wife.  When she begins to visit him, he fears that someday her visits will end.

Tyler, a Pulitzer Prize winner, specializes in novels about eccentric characters living rather ordinary domestic lives.  Despite the unusual story line of her latest novel, much of The Beginner’s Goodbye describes normal, everyday events.  One reviewer described Tyler’s fiction with the phrase, “imperfect marriage described perfectly,” and this description applies to key scenes in the book.

Don’t be intimidated about reading a novel by a Pulitzer Prize winner.  This short novel is a quick—and not difficult—read, even if you savor every word of it, as I did.  Although I rarely reread a novel, I look forward to reading this one again!

While Anne Tyler has lived in Baltimore for almost all of her adult life and uses that city as the setting for her fiction, she lived in North Carolina as a girl and is a Duke graduate.  She and I were both in Reynolds Price’s freshman English class, and he recognized her genius even then.  On the day when our first writing assignments were due, she told me that she was really worried about her paper—she didn’t think it was good at all.  Since she didn’t show me her paper, I took her at her word and thought that she’d never do well in that class.  At some later time, I was amazed to see one of her stories published in the university’s literary journal.  Many readers would find it amusing to think that she doubted her writing talent, even for a minute!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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