The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
The Beginner's Goodbye is a real return to form for Anne Tyler. Fans of her writing will be delighted to see so many of her signature tropes dusted off and given a new lease of life. There's the socially inept protagonist, his domineering sister who secretly begins dating one of his acquaintances, the flight to the parental home in the face of trauma, the regression to childhood and the coming to terms with mistakes that cannot be undone.
In many ways this is a remodelling of the plot of one of her most successful titles, The Accidental Tourist. In that book a reluctant traveller who has somehow ended up writing guide books for a living is forced to accept the reality of the death of his son and the implosion of his marriage.
This time the central character is a disenchanted editor in a minor publishing house whose output is primarily vanity publishing, except for their unexpectedly successful series of Beginners Guides covering every emotional milestone from colicky baby to divorce.
Aaron, the protagonist, was left with a paralysed arm and leg by a childhood illness, and coddled by his over-protective mother as a result. So he ends up marrying Dorothy, who appears to be completely uninterested in caring for him. But the very lack of domesticity that he found so attractive at the beginning of their relationship, begins to pall over time and their marriage becomes characterised by misunderstandings and squabbles.
When a tree falls on the house and kills her, however, Aaron is overcome with grief. He rejects the sympathy and help proffered by those around him. It's in this state of lonely reproachfulness that he begins to see Dorothy again, as solid-seeming and matter of fact as any other person. If you've ever seen the film, Truly, Madly, Deeply, you'll know what to expect. In his conversations with his dead wife Aaron retraces the trajectory of their unhappy relationship.
The ending is completely sentimental and a little old-fashioned. But then Anne Tyler is a little old-fashioned. That's part of her appeal. I practically read this in one go and the pleasure it gave me was almost physical