Sunday, April 15, 2012

"The Beginner's Goodbye," by Anne Tyler

The wonderful Anne Tyler knows so much about family, marriage, and aging, among the many things she is wise about. Over the years I have read almost all -- 17, I believe -- of her 19 novels. Her novels always seem deceptively plain and straightforward, with little in the way of embellishments, experimentation, or flash. But they are rich with real life, down-to-earth life, life that readers can relate to. Her recent novels have tended to feature mature (middle-aged or older) characters (see, for example, my 2/3/10 post on “Noah’s Compass”), and as a “mature” person myself, I appreciate this perspective. Tyler’s newest novel, “The Beginner’s Goodbye” (Knopf, 2012), also features a late-middle-aged character, Aaron, whose wife Dorothy has recently died, but has come back to visit him a few times. (Usually I don’t like fiction with elements of the supernatural, but this novel integrates these visits in such a natural, low-key way, and a way that is really just a device to explore Aaron’s feelings about Dorothy and about their marriage, that I didn’t find the device distracting.) Aaron, like many of Tyler’s protagonists, is somewhat of an introvert, and somewhat out of touch with his own feelings, but willing to learn, in his own slow-paced way. He had loved Dorothy deeply, and misses her badly, but he now sees that he had misunderstood and failed her in some ways during their courtship and marriage. Her occasional visits, and their conversations, give him a second chance to come to an understanding with her, and to achieve some peace for both of them. And by the time she stops visiting, he has realized that his life will go on, and that there is a possibility of joy and even love still awaiting him. “The Beginner’s Goodbye” is a novel about what we learn (if we are fortunate) as we get older, about the capacity to change, and about second chances.

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