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The Beginner's Goodbye Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Apr 3 2012

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada (April 3 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385677545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385677547
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 2.4 x 22.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #183,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“Small as it is, and simple on a superficial level, this is one of the best books I've read about death and loss. As always, Anne Tyler doesn't explain the powers of emotion or tip you into despair. Instead, she peels back the layers to show her readers how grief works. In this case, using her tremendous talent for detail and understanding, she walks us through the life of Aaron Woolcot in the weeks, months and years after his wife is killed by a falling tree.”
The New Zealand Herald

“[A]n uplifting tale of love and forgiveness. By the end of this wonderful book, you’ve lived the lives and loves of these characters in the best possible way.”
Publishers Weekly
“[T]he tone of this whimsical fable is so light that it practically floats off the page.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Its gently wry story builds to something very affecting.”
The Independent (UK)
“Touching and unexpectedly funny.”
National Post
“Elegant . . . [Tyler’s] portrayal of his pain and clumsy resilience is beautifully intricate. By the exquisitely romantic emotional climax, Aaron’s ordinary life has bloomed into an opera.”
Entertainment Weekly
“This scintillating gem of a novel will be one of Tyler’s most popular hits.”

“ . . . Tyler offers a dose of fictional solace and sustenance that few contemporary writers can provide. Part of what makes her fiction so comforting is its familiarity, and all the trademark Tylerisms are to be found in The Beginner's Goodbye: the shabby gentility of the Baltimore setting; the emotionally repressed and (literally) limp hero; the amusingly mismatched marriage; the fairytale ending.”
The Guardian (UK)

About the Author

ANNE TYLER was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. This is Anne Tyler's nineteenth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
In her wispy yet riveting manner, Anne Tyler has written another book that allows us to examine the bumps and bruises of our own soul. Here is my life, but why is it here? Here are my friends, but who are and why should they matter? And here is my future, but do I want to go there?

Anyone who has read one of Anne's previous works will want to peruse this slow-paced novel about a man who lost his wife to an unexpected accident. She examines the grieving, the guilt and the hopelessness that we experience when our predetermined life goes awry and, at the same time, makes us realize that we can not only survive but go on in a more meaningful manner......
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As with all her work, Anne Tyler draws us into a familiar domestic situation - her characters are so real, I had a hard time
believing this was not someone in my own neighbourhood. It's entertainment value is priceless.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anne Tyler never fails to take me in, make me feel comfortable and please me to no end. She looks at life from so many angles and I find that very satisfying.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The interactions between family members, grief and moving on are all intricate parts of this book. It was an easy read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa2726738) out of 5 stars 412 reviews
91 of 95 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa27572d0) out of 5 stars Tyler at her best March 4 2012
By Pasiphae - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I have been reading Ann Tyler since 1979, and this is one of her best, a gentle portrait of grief and longing.

The plot synopsis is simple: Aaron's wife Dorothy dies, and as he works through his grief, he thinks he sees her now and then. That's really all there is to it. The charm of the book lies in its ability to mine the richness of everyday life for moments of pain, humor and illumination.

Aaron, a man with physical handicaps, has been fending off the care of others for most of his life. As a result he's had a mostly regular life. When he meets Dorothy, a stolid, socially clueless doctor eight or nine years his senior, he falls in immediate, dumbstruck love. I just couldn't get enough of how Aaron loved his wife, I adored his descriptions of her every little detail, the way he cherished up her looks, her plain wardrobe, her untidy ways and her blunt manner of expression. It made his pain so very real.

Aaron's life is full of whimsical, endearing people. He really is beloved, even though he prefers to push people away rather than admit to his pain. Having watched a widower work through the loss of a wife, I recognized Aaron's avoidance, his business for business's sake, the way he worked much harder at denying his grief than processing it. This is realistic, I think.

But of course, since this is an Anne Tyler book, he's going to work through it, because Tyler always gives her characters the room to change, learn, grow and find happiness. This is one of the reasons I love to read her. This is a spare little book, but it is fully realized and completely satisfying.

Very highly recommended.
117 of 125 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2757c6c) out of 5 stars Gentle, moving story of grief and loss March 6 2012
By Sophia - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Aaron is a thirtysomething book publisher. Disabled after a childhood illness, he grew up resisting the well-meaning, overprotective urges of his strong-willed mother and sister. Then, he meets Dorothy, a doctor, who has no interest in coddling him. They fall in love and establish a warm, workable marriage - until, one day, the unthinkable happens. A tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed.

Aaron struggles to absorb this crushing loss, sometimes regaining a measure of equanimity, sometimes brought to his knees with the sheer force of his grief and despair. Then, one day, Dorothy comes to visit, bringing comfort, but, also, an additional raft of worries. Is she real? Is he losing it? If she is real, why did she come back?

This is a gentle, sweet, realistic look at the grieving process, including both the stabbing, unbearable pain and the small-but-important things that can sneak up and hit unexpectedly. Aaron is a quirky and engaging, but also somewhat prickly and exasperating, especially in his interactions with those closest to him.

A few things I noticed that jarred slightly - Aaron does not seem thirty-five to me, more like fifty. Also, although the story is set in Baltimore, as another reviewer noted, it has a decidedly small-town feel. Some of the characters, like Peggy, seemed to be a bit "old-school" for their (presumed) age brackets. For instance, secretaries these days tend to do much more coordination and administration than caretaking. I was also mildly surprised at a small press that appeared to be doing well, without a mention of the recession. It felt like I was visiting a modern version of Brigadoon, with timeless characters and ageless problems. This is not necessarily a drawback, just something I noticed.

This is a refreshing, readable take on one of life's most important issues, one that I plan to keep and reread for many years to come. Recommended.
72 of 80 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2757cc0) out of 5 stars Quietly interesting, though nowhere near Tyler's best March 13 2012
By Joanna M - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Aaron Woolcott, a thirty-something editor at a family-run publishing company, has just lost his wife in a freak accident. Naturally, those closest to him -- his older sister Nandina, the handful of colleagues at Woolcott Publishing, and a few random friends -- reach out to him, fearing his emotional and physical deterioration. Although he's always felt he's been able to manage just fine, Aaron has a disabled arm and leg, thanks to illness as a toddler; and as he and his sister are the only surviving members of the immediate family, they've tended to be a bit reclusive. Now, as Aaron insists upon remaining in his nearly destroyed home all alone, the people in his life have reason to worry.

As Aaron struggles to cope and to adjust to his new life, he suddenly begins to see his dead wife Dorothy appearing. There is no pattern to her visits, making Aaron long to have her with him all the more. During these times, the two talk and discuss their life together. All the while, Aaron wonders what others see, and what they must think.

Having read all of Tyler's books to date, I feel qualified to compare this latest with its predecessors. Overall, while the characters are richly written and the premise holds promise, the story itself just didn't feel all that intriguing to me. There have been numerous works of fiction about people who lose their spouses, and this one just didn't stand out too keenly in my mind.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2757de0) out of 5 stars Life Is Love and Grief March 7 2012
By Sam Sattler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
For Anne Tyler fans (among whom I count myself), the arrival of a new novel of hers is a major literary event. Tyler's way of creating wonderfully quirky characters and placing them in universal life situations is probably what attracts so many of us to her work. Her fans know not to expect lots of action or overly complicated plots from her; the woman writes beautiful novels about people and what makes them tick. She has done it again with Aaron Woolcott and The Beginner's Goodbye.

Aaron Woolcott and his spinster sister, Nandina, run Woolcott Publishing, a company with two basic sources of revenue: what, before the advent of self-published e-books, was called "vanity publishing" and a long series of books for "beginners" that are even more dumbed-down than the real-world "for dummies" series that is so popular. Aaron has recently lost his wife in a tragic, fluke accident and is struggling to say goodbye. He badly needs to feel a sense of closure but, because Dorothy died almost immediately after an argument with him, Aaron is too filled with regrets to let her go. Thus, the title of the book.

The novel's self-description emphasizes how Aaron begins to see Dorothy at random intervals and places. Sometimes she speaks to him, sometimes she does not. Strangely, others often see Dorothy by Aaron's side, but they instinctively focus on Aaron and never acknowledge Dorothy's presence - even, it seems, to themselves. Surprisingly enough, despite the book blurb's emphasis on it, Dorothy's return plays a much smaller role in the story than one might expect.

The Beginner's Goodbye is about how one man comes to terms with his grief. I suspect that all of us handle grief somewhat differently and that we do not truly know ourselves until we are tested this way. Aaron prefers to handle it internally despite the number of sympathetic and loving co-workers and friends with which he is surrounded. It is easier for him to deny that he is suffering than to explain to his friends the level of grief he is feeling.

But, as he will learn, the world continues to evolve, people change, and new relationships are formed. I find that the first and last sentences of The Beginner's Goodbye perfectly encapsulate Aaron's story:

"The strangest thing about my wife's return from the dead was how other people reacted."

"We go around and around in the world, and here we go again."

This deceptively simple little novel has a lot to say about life and love. Anne Tyler fans will jump all over it. I hope that others less familiar with Tyler's work will not miss out.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2757cfc) out of 5 stars The Beginner's Goodbye March 24 2012
By Brendan Moody - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Anne Tyler's new novel may at first seem unpromising, especially to readers who felt that her previous book, Noah's Compass, was an underwhelming echo of earlier and better work on similar themes. The Beginner's Goodbye is certainly reminiscent of other novels by Tyler. Aaron Woolcott, the awkward male protagonist whose life is changed by a terrible twist of fate, brings to mind Liam Pennywell (Noah's Compass) and Macon Leary (The Accidental Tourist); Aaron's involvement in a series of how-to books that are essentially upmarket versions of the "For Dummies" series recalls Macon's travel guides for travel haters. Even the title, and certain aspects of the theme, echo 2004's The Amateur Marriage. But such comparisons are only worth so much; in a career of nineteen novels over nearly fifty years, there are bound to be points of similarity. The Beginner's Goodbye may not break much new ground, but for those who admire Tyler's gently comic portraits of human eccentricity, it's a quick, enjoyable meditation on things left unsaid and the nature of an unusual relationship.

Mildly disabled and surrounded by a mother, a sister, and a female coworker who wanted to take care of him, Aaron was attracted to Dorothy in large part because she showed no interest in nurturing or coddling him. Their marriage is, if not brimming over with happiness, at least stable, until a tree falls into their house and kills her. Grief-stricken and barely able to function, Aaron moves back in with his sister at the old family home, and goes numbly through the business of putting his life back in order... until he begins to see Dorothy again. Will her appearances, whatever their source, give him a chance to move on and face the rest of his life?

Although Dorothy's return is the most striking element of the novel and is duly emphasized in the cover copy, it doesn't occur until about two-thirds of the way through; like much of Tyler's work, the book is defined not by the supernatural but by the natural, ordinary human foibles made more compelling by their tragic context. In theory, at least. The drawback of The Beginner's Goodbye is that Aaron's grief never feels as powerful as the novel wants it to seem; his reserved narration never conveys anguish, and nothing happens to make one feel he's having the particular trouble adjusting that the reader has been led to expect. It's not that grief has to be dramatic to be real, but that the basic process is not inherently as interesting as its significance and universality might lead one to believe, and that in the absence of deep emotional insight, descriptions of the familiar rituals of grief (the awkwardness of well-meaning friends, endless casseroles brought over by neighbors) often feel hollow. The reader still sympathizes with Aaron, but not thoroughly enough to make the novel unforgettable.

Nevertheless there is much to enjoy in The Beginner's Goodbye. The characterization is typically deft: traits and quirks recognizable from our everyday lives are combined in ways that make the protagonists resemble real human beings rather than quaint comic types, and Tyler's deep, wide-ranging sympathy is reserved enough that it feels genuinely humanistic, not cloying. Her eye for the type of mild comedy that emerges from quotidian social interactions enlivens the already brisk pace; Aaron and Dorothy's mutual oddness as revealed in flashbacks is endearing. And the quietly moving resolution reflects thoughtful consideration of the needs and uncertainties that run beneath an unconventional marriage like that of Aaron and Dorothy, the hard truths hidden by the amusing facade. It is those darknesses within lightness that make Anne Tyler's finest work powerful despite its sentimental qualities and its limitations in scope, and while The Beginner's Goodbye doesn't match her best fiction, it comes close enough to be more than worth the time it takes to read it.

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