Thursday, August 16, 2012

A review of "The Beginner's Goodbye" by Anne Tyler

Though is won’t achieve the fame of “Call me Ishmael”, Anne Tyler has crafted a great first line for her latest novel (her 19th): “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how people reacted.”***** No, it’s not yet another zombie novel, but the opening alerts the reader to themes that Tyler has often turned to in her work; the impact mortality has on relationships – in marriage, in families and among friends. “The Beginner’s Goodbye” draws even more specifically from one of Tyler’s most beloved novels, “The Accidental Tourist”. Both books feature a widower for a protagonist who is emotionally crippled (in this novel emphasized by a physical disability.) And Aaron is even in the publishing industry, editor for a company that features a series of “Beginner’s” help manuals as Macon Leary in the earlier novel wrote a series of “Accidental Tourist” guidebooks.***** I don’t at all mind Tyler returning to similar themes, because she manages to keep things fresh, sweet and, on occasion, rather funny. She manages quirk without it becoming cloying, which isn’t easy.***** Even lessons learned go down with the proverbial spoonful. One lesson that the protagonist, Aaron, learns is that self sufficiency and relationships often don’t go together. (It’s interesting that Aaron is an atheist in a world that has great wonder. He seems not to want to admit a need for God anymore than he wants to admit he needs other people.) Another nicely woven theme is the miraculous nature of relationships. Aaron’s renewed relationship with his dead wife is perhaps on the same plane of chance as their relationship beginning in the first place. (I thought of C. S. Lewis’ discussion of miracles. Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding was just quicker than the usual, also miraculous, process.)***** The novel is relatively short (under 200 pages), which is all to the good. While longtime writers like Stephen King write on and on, just challenging an editor to be brave enough to cut, Tyler knows when enough is enough.

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