“The Beginner’s Goodbye”: A Grief Observed

by J-Mirabelli

Anne Tyler's novel "Breathing Lessons" received a Pulitzer Prize and her novel "The Accidental Tourist" was made into a 1988 movie starring William Hurt and Geena Davis.

In The Beginner’s Goodbye, author Anne Tyler celebrates amateurs and novices – beginners still capable of learning. It’s this capacity for change that makes Tyler’s characters so appealing.

She is the patron saint of misfits. Embarking on an Anne Tyler novel is like heading off on vacation to a favorite destination: You’re filled with anticipation of pleasure, even though you know the place is likely to have changed since your last visit.

The Beginner’s Goodbye fulfills that dual craving for familiarity and freshness. Its focus is loss and recovery, grief and growth.

The Beginner’s Goodbye is a ghost story. The reader is captured from the first line: “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.”

Its narrator, Aaron Woolcott, works for his family’s Baltimore publishing house, Woolcott Publishing. After a tree falls on his house, killing his wife, he finds himself a widower. A gentle tale of memory, regret, family bonds, reconciliation and love, it explores Aaron’s journey back from paralyzing grief, assisted by his wife’s periodic reappearances.

Dead though she may be, he finally hears her in a way he never did when she was alive. And he starts to realize that their marriage was quite different than he thought. Aaron Woolcott is gradually restored by his dead wife’s frequent appearances. Her unexpected appearances 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.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, “This is no gothic ghost story nor chronicle of a man unraveling in his grief, but rather an uplifting tale of love and forgiveness. By the end of this wonderful book, you’ve lived the lives and loves of these characters in the best possible way.”

This novel is a subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler’s humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.

Read more:

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

A Grief Observed | NPR

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