The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler reviewby Marion McLeod
A charming but slight ghost story from Anne Tyler.
Other people’s reactions bother Aaron. Childhood illness has left him slightly disabled: he uses a cane, and he loathes sympathy or caring in any form. After his bereavement, casseroles, cookies and kindness rain down upon him, and he is not grateful. He plods on at his work as an editor in the family publishing fi rm. It survives on vanity productions and a series of beginner’s guides: The Beginner’s Book of Kitchen Remodeling, The Beginner’s Menu Plan, The Beginner’s Book of Dog Training. Little by little, Aaron begins to look back on his relationship with Dorothy. Little by little, we see the cracks in the marriage. Tyler is good on grief but this beginner’s guide, it must be said, lacks the richness, the wryness, the comic and the tragic notes of her best work. It has charming moments but it’s a slight novel and its sudden ending is perfunctory and unconvincing.
Tyler doesn’t usually opt for a first person viewpoint. Granted, it has obvious advantages for this scenario. But Aaron, despite his sufferings, does not make an appealing hero or a perceptive narrator. Macon Leary, of The Accidental Tourist, is not unlike Aaron. But Macon’s story is told in the third person, whereas Aaron’s limited take on life narrows the range of his story. It’s hard to remember he’s just 36 and apparently very good-looking: he seems at least 50, going on 70. Tyler herself is now 70. When she began publishing, she gave two interviews. Then she was silent for 40 years. But in the past couple of months, she has talked to several journalists. It seems she planned to make The Beginner’s Goodbye her last novel, it being a good title to go out on. But fortunately she has already begun her 20th, a sprawling family saga. “If I write it backwards through the generations, then it could end whenever I died.”
THE BEGINNER’S GOODBYE, by Anne Tyler (Jonathan Cape, $34.99).
Marion McLeod is a Wellington reviewer.
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