Paying Attention to the Living

This is my review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler.

Only my deep admiration for Anne Tyler could have got me past the opening pages in which Aaron describes people's reactions to his wife Dorothy's return from the dead: some give the couple a wide berth, others try to pretend she isn't there, but a few act normally since they have forgotten that she has died. If you like rational explanations, you could argue this is a satirical twist on how people behave when they meet someone who has just been bereaved.

Unlike some reviewers, I was very glad that this is not mainly a ghost story. I leave it to you to discover whether Dorothy is a phantom, a "Truly Madly Deeply" type figment of Aaron's grief-stricken imagination, or a mixture of the two.

This story soon becomes a very Tylerish examination of dealing with the untimely death of a spouse, Aaron's feelings over time and the reactions of others. It is made all the more effective by her use of wry humour, sharp observation, and understated poignant moments. The characters seem down-to-earth if a bit oddball, but there are frequent hints of deeper, unspoken or suppressed emotions.

Reading it straight after "The Sense of an Ending", this is further evidence of how short books often provide more food for thought than much longer ones. I would have disagreed with those who dismiss this as "not one of her better books", if it had not been for the ending which is a little too pat.

Perhaps it was written mainly as a small piece of catharsis for Tyler's loss of her own husband. Capturing a source of intense pain in a short, easily read, essentially feel good book may be the only way of making it tolerable enough to examine and accept to some extent.

Highly recommended.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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