Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Beginner's Goodbye: An Irresistible Treat

 The Beginner's Goodbye, a novel by Anne Tyler, has everything going for it. The plot is sufficiently quirky to grab and hold your attention, and yet entirely plausible. The characters are eccentric enough to be funny, but somehow familiar, like folks you have known. Tyler's writing style is clear and easy to read. The sentences are short and conversational because the story is written in the voice of the protagonist, Aaron. Aaron is mad at the world, and his grimly mocking point of view is the source of the book's gentle humor. The story's development reveals a level of psychological insight that makes you feel at home with a trusted friend.

Not a word is wasted; every sentence is neatly crafted to move the plot along, reveal the characters, or suggest the theme. A mere 234 pages long, it quickly comes to a satisfying resolution.

Anne Tyler, b. 1941
Author of The Beginner's Goodbye
Internet grab
One critic complained about the novel's lack of naturalism. Though it was published in 2012, there are very few references to the equipment of the digital life. And maybe, the same critic quibbled, things come out a little too neatly in the end. These complaints come from the wrong point of view. This novel must be seen as a parable about love and relationships. To bulk it up with virtual reality would dull the point. Like a parable, the novel gives you just enough detail that in the end you feel you have learned something, something subtle and valuable.

The novel is so compact that I hesitate to say more, for fear of spoiling some discovery. The premise is stated in the first sentence: “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.” The matter-of-fact tone for this outlandish statement is irresistible; I had to see what the speaker meant by that.

Anne Tyler was born the same year as I was, and her career has been enviable. She has published 19 novels, of which I have read about half. The Accidental Tourist was made into a movie. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was very popular, and Breathing Lessons won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989. Most of the time I try to work my way through the classic novels, like a perpetual grad student. Now and then I take a break for a novel by Anne Tyler, always a treat.