EXCERPT: The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.
We were strolling through Belvedere Square, for instance, on an early spring afternoon when we met our old neighbour, Jim Rust. “Well, what do you know,” he said to me. “Aaron!” Then he noticed Dorothy beside me. She stood peering up at him with one hand shielding her forehead from the sun. His eyes widened and he turned to me again.
I said, “How’s it going, Jim?”
Visibly, he pulled himself together. “Oh . . . great,” he said. “I mean. . . or, rather . . . but of course we miss you. Neighbourhood is not the same without you!”
He was focusing on me alone – specifically on my mouth, as if I were the one who was talking. He wouldn’t look at Dorothy. He had pivoted a few inches so as to exclude her from his line of vision.
I took pity on him. I said, “Well, tell everybody hello,” and we walked on. Beside me, Dorothy gave one of her dry chuckles.
Other people pretended not to recognize either one of us. They would catch sight of us from a distance, and this sort of jolt would alter their expressions and they would all at once dart down a side street, busy, busy, much to accomplish, very important concerns on their minds. I didn’t hold it against them. I knew this was a lot to adjust to. In their position, I might have behaved the same way. I like to think I wouldn’t, but I might have.
The ones who made me laugh aloud, were the ones who’d forgotten she’d died. Granted, there were only two or three of those – people who barely knew us. In line at the bank once we were spotted by Mr Von Sant, who had handled our mortgage application several years before. He was crossing the lobby and he paused to ask, “You two still enjoying the house?”
“Oh, yes,” I told him.
Just to keep things simple.
I pictured how the realization would hit him a few minutes later. ‘Wait,’ he would say to himself, ‘Didn’t I hear something about. . .’
Unless he never gave us another thought. Or hadn’t heard the news in the first place. He’d go on forever assuming that the house was still intact, and Dorothy still alive, and the two of us still happily, unremarkably married.
ABOUT THIS BOOK: Anne Tyler explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances—in their house, on the roadway, in the market.
Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, self-dependent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace.
Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye.
MY THOUGHTS: I enjoyed this, my second novel by Anne Tyler, more than the first. Living through grief and finding your way out the other side is the central theme.
Tyler’s novels are very much character based, so don’t go expecting a lot of action. What you have is Aaron, a very mild mannered man, wracked with guilt at surviving the freak accident that kills his wife, Dorothy. Forced to go live with his controlling sister, with whom he also works, this is the story of Aaron’s working through his grief and his discovery that, although he may have been happy with what he had, he does not necessarily want more of the same.
I found this quite a pleasant read, and it may have even earned a half star more than I eventually rated it had the ending not contradicted the beginning.
I also believe that a different narrator would have greatly enhanced my enjoyment. Kirby Heyborne read with very little emotion. S/he could have been reading a shopping list.
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. She has published 20 novels, her debut novel being If Morning Ever Comes in (1964). Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons , was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
DISCLOSURE: I listened to the audiobook of The Beginners Goodbye by Anne Tyler, narrated by Kirby Heyborne and published by Random House Audiobooks, via OverDrive. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2095785128