three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
59-July-Aug-2012
By: 
Anne Tyler
user_rating: 
0

748406.pngBest-selling novelist Anne Tyler pens intimate domestic dramas that cast a sharp, humorous eye on human relationships. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1983; The Accidental Tourist won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1985; and Breathing Lessons received the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. Reviewed: The Amateur Marriage (3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2004), Digging to America (4 of 5 Stars Selection July/Aug 2006), Noah's Compass (3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2010).

The Story: "The strangest thing about my wife's return from the dead was how other people reacted," says the crippled Aaron Woolcott, 35, as he recalls his stolid, sensibly dressed wife's reappearance a few months after her untimely death. Previously, after fighting one evening and retreating to separate rooms, an oak tree crashes through their house and kills her. As Aaron deals with his grief, Dorothy reappears in unlikely places, giving him the chance to reconcile their imperfect marriage ("Out of sync. Uncoordinated," Aaron explains). He also tries to carry on with his life‚ moving in with his sister, rejoining the family business (publishing beginners's guides to life), and, through his trials, learning how to impart his final goodbye.
Knopf. 208 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780307957276

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"When [Aaron] has come to terms with his life thus far, the world opens to him in a new way. One might say that both he and [his spinster sister] Nandina become intermediates, rather than beginners, in the game of life, as rendered faultlessly, entertainingly and entirely believably by Anne Tyler." Valerie Ryan

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Since Tyler isn'st preoccupied with whether [ Dorothy's] visits are real or Aaron is just nuts, neither are we. By the exquisitely romantic emotional climax, Aaron's ordinary life has bloomed into an opera." Karen Valby

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In many ways, Goodbye feels like the center slice of an Anne Tyler novel, a distillation. The wonder of Anne Tyler is how consistently clear-eyed and truthful she remains about the nature of families and especially marriage. A domestic problem, yes, but as epic as they come." Mary McNamara

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Aaron is Tyler's typically congenial narrator, thoughtful, mostly plainspoken, occasionally wry. In his story, everyone feels like family, or at least like neighbors and friendly acquaintances." Ellen Akins

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This all sounds overly sentimental, and it sometimes is, especially in the novel's final pages. Still, reading The Beginner's Goodbye is like listening to a master riff on an old classic: The pleasures are that much greater for being so familiar." Anthony Domestico

Cleveland Plain Dealer 2 of 5 Stars
"In The Beginner's Goodbye, the wife's return from the dead turns out to be a storytelling promise unfulfilled, and one of the least interesting developments in a pleasant but dramatically tepid novel. Even as a ghost, Dorothy failed to engage me, much less haunt me." Karen Sandstrom

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"If the economic and cultural details seem quaint and artificial, Tyler's ability to survey the emotional terrain of grief remains sharp. Nothing about [Aaron] suggests we're in the company of a 35-year-old in the early 21st century; he seems dustier than the 60-year-old in Noah's Compass." Ron Charles

New York Times 1 of 5 Stars
"The problem is that the reader couldn't care less. Whereas Ms. Tyler's most powerful work has been animated by an intimate knowledge of her characters's inner lives‚ sympathy that lofted us up over whatever was cliched or cloying about their stories‚ the people in The Beginner's Goodbye are irritating stick figures, insipid and emotionally uptight." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

In some ways, The Beginner's Goodbye treads familiar Tyler territory. There's the marriage gone awry, the sad-sack husband (who bears resemblance to Macon Leary in The Accidental Tourist) and other out-of-step characters, and the middle-class Baltimore setting. But in other ways, the novel is "like the ghost of an Anne Tyler novel‚ a little immaterial but with enough residual matter to remind us of what we love about her books in the flesh" (Washington Post). Yes, it's slim, and perhaps the characters and narrative don't convince in quite the same way as some of Tyler's best novels. It's not her top work, certainly. But even this slighter effort explores an amazing range of human emotion and honest understanding of marriage, all the while adding more quirky, lovable characters to her canon.