The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.
We were strolling through Belvedere Square, for instance, on an early- spring afternoon when we met our old next- door neighbor, Jim Rust. “Well, what do you know,” he said to me. “Aaron!” Then he noticed Dorothy beside me. She stood peering up at him with one hand shielding her forehead from the sun. His eyes widened and he turned to me again.
I said, “How’s it going, Jim?”
Visibly, he pulled himself together. “Oh . . . great,” he said. “I mean . . . or, rather . . . but of course we miss you. Neighborhood is not the same without you!”
He was focusing on me alone— specifically, on my mouth, as if I were the one who was talking. He wouldn’t look at Dorothy. He had pivoted a few inches so as to exclude her from his line of vision.
I took pity on him. I said, “Well, tell everybody hello,” and we walked on. Beside me, Dorothy gave one of her dry chuckles.
Other people pretended not to recognize either one of us. They would catch sight of us from a distance, and this sort of jolt would alter their expressions and they would all at once dart down a side street, busy- busy, much to accomplish, very important concerns on their minds. I didn’t hold it against them. I knew this was a lot to adjust to. In their position, I might have behaved the same way. I like to think I wouldn’t, but I might have.
The ones who made me laugh aloud were the ones who had forgotten she’d died. Granted, there were only two or three of those— people who barely knew us. In line at the bank once we were spotted by Mr. von Sant, who had handled our mortgage application several years before. He was crossing the lobby and he paused to ask, “You two still enjoying the house?”
“Oh, yes,” I told him.
Just to keep things simple.
I pictured how the realization would hit him a few minutes later. Wait! he would say to himself, as he was sitting back down at his desk. Didn’t I hear something about . . . ?
Unless he never gave us another thought. Or hadn’t heard the news in the first place. He’d go on forever assuming that the house was still intact, and Dorothy still alive, and the two of us still happily, unremarkably married.
I had moved in by then with my sister, who lived in our parents’ old place in north Baltimore. Was that why Dorothy came back when she did? She hadn’t much cared for Nandina. She thought she was too bossy. Well, she was too bossy. Is. She’s especially bossy with me, because I have a couple of handicaps. I may not have mentioned that. I have a crippled right arm and leg. Nothing that gets in my way, but you know how older sisters can be.
Oh, and also a kind of speech hesitation, but only intermittently. I seldom even hear it, myself.
THE BEGINNER’S GOODBYE by Anne Tyler.
Copyright © 2012 by Anne Tyler
Published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
Dorothy may have left the mortal plane, but she hasn’t quite left her husband, Aaron. Suddenly, in the midst of his grief, he’s seeing her everywhere—in their house, on the roadway, in the market.
Partly crippled since childhood, Aaron spent much of his life fending off a sister who tried to baby him, so when he met Dorothy—a woman who barely showed any interest in his handicap—it was a breath of fresh air. Theirs was a happy, quiet marriage…until her accidental death left him bereft. Now, as Anne Tyler’s The Beginner’s Goodbye unfolds, she’s back, giving them both a chance to steal some time together and reaffirm their love, and find a way to finally say goodbye. A wise, haunting and deeply moving novel about loss and recovery.
Hardcover Book : 224 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc./Random House ( April 03, 2012 )
Item #: 13-475761
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.25 x 0.52inches
Product Weight: 10.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
As I read this short novel, I found myself often thinking, "I don't really care about these people". But...Ms Tyler brought it home in the end as only she can do. In the final pages, my lack of care for the characters made complete sense. It was all part of the author's design. A great read - not quite as good as Breathing Lessons or The Amateur Marriage, but quite good neverless. Loved the cover design.
Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors and her new book did not disappoint me--I am always able to learn something from her believable characters at the same time I am being amused and entertained. Thanks you for a wonderful book!
Reviewer: Janice G
I am not a superstitious person, or at least I do not think I am. But it has been said that death comes in threes. Having just lost three close people in three weeks, I am beginning to wonder. But then I read the short, new novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Anne Tyler, titled The Beginner’s Goodbye. In one sense it is a departure from her usual topics because it deals with the possibility of the dead coming back to visit us.
In another sense it deals with the grieving process, which is as individual and unique as each of us. But one does not have to be grieving to appreciate the story of Aaron, a young man, who loses his wife when a tree falls their home. How Aaron learns to live with the death of his precious Dorothy unfolds as only Tyler can do. There is the right mixture of pathos, humor, and common sense. At just under 200 pages, it is a comfortable and comforting novel.
My introduction to Anne Tyler came with The Accidental Tourist, her 10th novel. She has written 19 novels, each with sage comments and her current one doesn’t disappoint. In answer to a question posed by Aaron, Nate,
one of the characters, replies, in part, “So the smart thing to do is, pay attention while they are living.” Superstitions aside, that is the truth.
This goodbye is a quiet, gentle examination of our expectations of marriage and the little ways we fail to live up to them, no matter how loving or well-intentioned we may be.