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The Beginner's Goodbye

picture of book cover

There are two main reasons I love Anne Tyler: one is rather facile, which is that I get a childlike delight when she mentions Sinai Hospital or Cold Spring Lane and I say aloud “yay Baltimore!” The other is because Tyler floats above the “women’s literature/literary fiction” brouhahas, allowing for beautiful portrayals of marriage, siblings, and grief.
All of those are topics in The Beginner's Goodbye , Aaron’s wife Dorothy has come back to talk to him, despite being dead. Aaron has to figure out how to start his life over, while examining his marriage.  Dorothy, it appears, has some unfinished business.
If you go from Richard Ford to Anne Tyler, there’s a sense of prose whiplash. Yet I like sentences of hers like “Oh, welcome to the world of the Next of Kin: good news, bad news, up, down, up and down again, over days that lasted forever. The surgery was successful but then t was not, and she had to be rushed back to the operating room.” Reading Anne Tyler is like being in Baltimore, where people are real and struggle with real things and don’t talk with flowery language. One of the reasons D.C. becomes tiresome is that you meet so many people with vague jobs, who are only interested in you for your connections, and speak as if they’ve watched too many West Wing episodes.
But back to Aaron and Dorothy. Tyler does far better than say, The Snow Child, at figuring out that a little magical realism goes a long way. At its heart, there’s a provocative question about what love and marriage mean when they are interrupted by death. Aaron ultimately has an epiphany that surprised the heck out of me, and makes the story deeper than I was anticipating. What I ultimately love about The Beginner’s Goodbye is that I feel like I could recommend it to both voracious readers and casual readers, especially Baltimoreans who are looking for something that reflects their lives.