Reading Anne Tyler is like sitting on the porch on a perfect summer’s evening. Crickets give a concert. The smell of fresh mowed grass fills the air. Ahh, yes. Perfect. And understated, because below the comfortable and lovely surface is a deep exploration of our human frailties and insecurities. Our wants and desires, our loves and our fears are all deeply engraved in Tyler’s novels.
The Beginner’s Goodbye is a perfect example of Tyler’s rare talent. There is nothing high concept in the premise of this story; a man loses his wife in a tragic accident and must learn to deal with his loss. It’s a short book, not much more than two hundred pages. You could, on the surface, dismiss it as simplistic. But it’s not simple at all.
The husband, Aaron, narrates the story. A childhood illness has left Aaron with disabilities that effect his motor coordination. As a result, he is acutely aware of how people tend to coddle him. Aaron hates being coddled. If he wants anything, it’s to be independent. Which, to him, means not being needed and needing no one.
It’s no wonder he chooses to marry Dorothy. She’s socially awkward and has difficulty connecting emotionally to others. A perfect choice for a man who doesn’t want to be needy.
The story opens after Dorothy has already died. Aaron is devastated. Over time, he learns to deal with his grief. And, he finds that Dorothy may not have been the perfect mate after all. He learns that needing others, and conversely, letting them lean on you, isn’t a character flaw. It might, in fact, be a better way of living.
Often, it seems, stories come when you need them. I’ve been dealing with the loss of a good friend these past weeks. Tyler, with her gentle humor and lovely writing style, shows the way through loss. And now, whether or not you’re dealing with grief, wherever you are in life, I’m pressing this book into your hands. Find a quiet spot, preferably outside. If there are crickets and fresh mowed grass, all the better. Spend the afternoon in these pages. It’ll be worth it. I promise.