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The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler: Fiction Review - Six Triscuits, An Old Oak Tree and Death

June 07, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 265

Pulitzer-Prize winning author, Anne Tyler, returns with her 19th fiction book, The Beginner's Goodbye. Tyler has a talent for writing about ordinary lives, while adding humor and wisdom to her narrative.

Aaron Wolcott is a thirty-five-year-old Baltimore publisher, married to Dorothy Rosales, M.D., eight years his senior. The childless, non-nurturing couple met eight years ago, while Aaron was searching for professional resources.

At age two, Aaron developed complications from the flu. His right foot and calf are primarily deadweight and his right leg lags behind him. A counterbalance lean is offset with a cane; and his right arm hangs loosely with his hand bending inward. He's also known to stutter. Despite his physical challenges he's never considered himself handicapped.

Dorothy is an oncology radiologist by trade. Plump and serious looking, she makes a boring appearance, often wearing straight trousers, man-tailored shirts and orthopedic-style shoes. Her crisp, white, doctor's smock and diagonally placed shoulder satchel are always in tow. Her five-foot-one presence is noticeably different from Aaron's six-foot-four frame.

Aaron leaves work one day feeling ill with a cold. Recuperating at home, his coworker, Peggy, visits to make him tea. While she's in the kitchen, she rearranges the countertop, moving Dorothy's box of Triscuits. When Dorothy arrives home ready to eat her quotidian ration of six Triscuits (always eating the box's suggested single serving size), she can't find them.

An argument ensues between the couple; and Dorothy retreats to the sunporch, while Aaron sulks in their bedroom. It's there that he hears crashing sounds; and soon discovers that the old oak tree beside the house smashed through the sunporch. Dorothy is severely injured by their mounted, bulky, Sony Trinitron, thrown as debris. After several days in the hospital, she dies.

Aaron and his unmarried, older sister, Nandina, inherited Wolcott Publishing (a vanity press), after their parents died (in the literary world, a vanity press garners little respect, as they publish anything an author submits, regardless of quality, as long as they pay the required fees).

Wolcott Publishing is known for its Beginner's series, similar to other instructional books; however, many of the topics are needlessly micro titled (witness The Beginner's Spice Cabinet and The Beginner's Colicky Baby). Nandina, and Aaron work with Charles, Irene and Peggy, each embodying their own quirky personality.

The Beginner's Goodbye is inference to Aaron's ability to learn how to let Dorothy go after her death.

Aaron sees Dorothy's image at various places, including the sidewalk by their house, and the farmers' market. She lingers long enough for Aaron to reflect on their relationship; and then disappears.

Tyler's passages detailing Dorothy's appearances are engaging; but most entertaining is the general narrative.

Noteworthy is Tyler's ability to illustrate mundane lives with humor. Aaron describes lying in bed with Dorothy late nights, sarcastically commenting on the drug commercials that end by rapidly mentioning possible side effects: "Dorothy used to hate it when I talked back like that. "Do you mind?" she would ask. " I can't hear a word they're saying."

A warm September day, already finds the five office mates planning for Christmas. "Predictably, Peggy had brought refreshments-homemade cookies and iced mint tea-which Nandina thanked her for although I knew she didn't see the necessity."

The Beginner's Goodbye is an entertaining fast read replete with relatable life lessons and a few surprises along the way.

Discover your next great read at BookPage. This complimentary, monthly publication is distributed to over 450,000 avid readers in book stores and public libraries; and can also be viewed online at:

Timothy Zaun is a blogger, speaker and freelance writer. Visit him online at

Source: EzineArticles
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