The Beginner's Goodbye

The Beginner's Goodbye

by Anne Tyler

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Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel in which she explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances—in their house, on the roadway, in the market.
Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, self-dependent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead 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.
A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler’s humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307969163
Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
Publication date: 04/28/2012

About the Author

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her nineteenth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


Baltimore, Maryland

Date of Birth:

October 25, 1941

Place of Birth:

Minneapolis, Minnesota


B.A., Duke University, 1961

Read an Excerpt

The Beginner's Goodbye

By Anne Tyler


Copyright © 2012 Anne Tyler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307957276

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.

In fact, I have often wondered what made Dorothy select the moment she did to come back. It wasn’t immediately after she died, which is when you might expect. It was months and months later. Almost a year. Of course I could have just asked her, but somehow, I don’t know, the question seemed impolite. I can’t explain exactly why.

One time we ran into Irene Lance, from my office. She’s the design person there. Dorothy and I were returning from lunch. Or I had had lunch, at least, and Dorothy had fallen into step beside me as I was walking back. And suddenly we noticed Irene approaching from St. Paul. Irene was hard to miss. She was always the most elegant woman on the street, not that that was much of a challenge in Baltimore. But she would have seemed elegant anywhere. She was tall and ice-­blonde, wearing a long, flowing coat that day with the collar turned up around her throat and the hemline swirling about her shins in the brisk spring breeze. I was curious. How would a person like Irene handle this type of thing? So I slowed my pace, which caused Dorothy to slow hers, and by the time Irene caught sight of us we were almost at a standstill, both of us waiting to see what Irene would do.

Two or three feet away from us, she stopped short. “Oh . . . my . . . God,” she said.

We smiled.

“UPS,” she said.

I said, “What?”

“I phoned UPS for a pickup and there’s nobody in the office.”

“Well, never mind. We’re heading back there right now,” I told her.

I used the word “we” on purpose, although Dorothy would most likely depart before I entered the building.

But all Irene said was, “Thanks, Aaron. I must be getting Alzheimer’s.”

And off she went, without another word.

She would really have worried about Alzheimer’s if she had known what she’d just overlooked.

I glanced over at Dorothy, expecting her to share the joke, but she was pursuing her own line of thought. “Wild Strawberries,” she said, in a reflective tone of voice.


“That’s who Irene reminds me of. The woman in the old Bergman movie—­the daughter-­in-­law, with the skinned-­back bun. Remember her?”

“Ingrid Thulin,” I said.

Dorothy raised her eyebrows slightly, to show she was impressed, but it wasn’t so very difficult to dredge that name up. I had been enamored with Ingrid Thulin since college. I liked her cool, collected air.

“How long do you suppose it will be before Irene does a double take?” I asked Dorothy.

Dorothy merely shrugged.

She seemed to view our situation much more matter-­of-­factly than I did.

Maybe the reason I didn’t ask Dorothy why she had come back when she did was that I worried it would make her ask herself the same question. If she had just sort of wandered back, absentmindedly, the way you would return to an old address out of habit, then once I’d brought it up she might say, “Oh! My goodness! I should be going!”

Or maybe she would imagine I was asking what she was doing here. Why she had come back at all, in other words. Like when you ask a houseguest how long he’s planning to stay and he suspects you’re asking, “When can I hope to be rid of you?” Maybe that was why I felt it wouldn’t be polite.

It would kill me if she left. I had already gone through that once. I didn’t think I could do it all over again.

She was short and plump and serious-­looking. She had a broad, olive-­skinned face, appealingly flat-­planed, and calm black eyes that were noticeably level, with that perfect symmetry that makes the viewer feel rested. Her hair, which she cut herself in a heedless, blunt, square style, was deeply, absolutely black, and all of a piece. (Her family had come from Mexico two generations before.) And yet I don’t think other people recognized how attractive she was, because she hid it. Or, no, not even that; she was too unaware of it to hide it. She wore owlish, round-­lensed glasses that mocked the shape of her face. Her clothes made her figure seem squat—­wide, straight trousers and man-­tailored shirts, chunky crepe-­soled shoes of a type that waitresses favored in diners. Only I noticed the creases as fine as silk threads that encircled her wrists and her neck. Only I knew her dear, pudgy feet, with the nails like tiny seashells.

My sister said Dorothy was too old for me, but that was just because I had foolishly told the truth when I was asked. Even though she was eight years my senior—­forty-­three when she died—­she seemed younger, because of that good strong Hispanic skin. Plus, she had enough padding to fill out any lines. You wouldn’t really think about age at all, with Dorothy.

My sister also said she was too short for me, and it is undeniable that when Dorothy and I hugged, all the wrong parts of us met. I am six-­feet-­four. Dorothy was not quite five-­one. If you saw us walking down the street together, my sister said, you would take us for a father and child heading off to grammar school.

And too professional, my sister said. Ha! There’s a novel objection. Dorothy was a doctor. I work as an editor in my family’s publishing firm. Not all that great a disparity, right? What Nandina meant was, too intent upon her profession. Too work-­obsessed. She left for her office early, stayed late, didn’t greet me with my slippers in the evening, barely knew how to boil an egg. Fine with me.

But not with Nandina, evidently.

Maybe it was just a long, long way to travel, and that’s why it took Dorothy all those months to come back.

Or maybe she had first tried to do without me, the way I had first tried to do without her—­to “get over” my loss, “find closure,” “move on,” all those ridiculous phrases people use when they’re urging you to endure the unendurable. But eventually, she had faced the fact that we simply missed each other too much. She had given in and returned.

That’s what I liked to believe.


Excerpted from The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler Copyright © 2012 by Anne Tyler. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Beginner’s Goodbye, Anne Tyler’s deeply moving new novel.

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The Beginner's Goodbye 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 76 reviews.
librarianDS More than 1 year ago
I believe I've read everything Anne Tyler has written and I am a big fan of her books. She has an even-handed quirky approach to life's mysteries; her books are fast-paced and her characters are memorable. My alltime favorite is The Accidental Tourist, closely followed by Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Breathing Lessons. TBG is not up to the mark of her previous books. To begin with, it is more a novella, under 200 pages, and her characters are more charictures than full-blown people. Aaron is didactic and caustic, Dorothy is stodgy and clinical, Nandina is hovering and bossy, Gil is salt-of-the-earth. Aaron's turnaround is less than logical, almost an aboutface to hook up with the most vulnerable character in the book. This is close to a romance, which the excellent Back When We Were Grownups skillfully side steps.
E_M_13423 More than 1 year ago
Only in his mid-30's, Aaron Wolcott, walks with a limp and depends on a cane for balance. An illness when young left him slightly paralyzed. He graduated from Stanford with a degree in English, but after college ended up working in the family's publishing Company editing books. At 24, he meets Dr. Dorothy, an oncologist, who is 8 years his senior, and, an introvert and loner like himself. After just 4 months, they marry and have a happy marriage of 10 years. Dorothy dies in a freak accident, when a tree crashes through the roof of their small home. She was only 43. The Beginner's Goodbye, is a deeply moving story. It's a story about love, loss, forgiveness and acceptance. The story left me with a lot to think about, and the ending ultimately left me smiling. This is one of my favorites of Anne Tyler. I love the way she writes; she puts so much meaning into the simplest gestures with her perfect word choice. This story is bittersweet but charming and memorable and very heart warming.
RC_News More than 1 year ago
Another Tyleresque oddball Baltimorean learns about love and loss. Wasn't sure how much I liked it in the middle, but she gives a good wrap-up at the end, which I quite liked. An engaging read from a dependable author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I usually enjoy Anne Tyler's fiction, but I cannot figure out if I really liked this book or not. The main character wasn't very likable, although I did find his friends and family amusing and quirky. The premise was interesting and well-drawn, but the ending was a little too pat. The book kept me interested, but I kept waiting for more substance and plot. This latest Tyler endeavor is hard for me to figure out., but it is definitely worth a try. You may love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story deals with a very unusual way in which a man deals with grief. Let's just say you never know what will happen next in his journey. I found it very interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was a little disappointed with this book. I thought the without could have given a deeper look into the characters. The end came ttoo soon and left me wanting more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Please keep writing anne,my very favorite writer,
mimi1952 More than 1 year ago
Don't think this was Anne Tyler's best book. It just never grabbed me. There wasn't much character development so you were left wondering about the characters past. It felt to me like there were too many stories going on. And the ending felt like it was an after thought because she couldn't think of a good ending.
AndyAC More than 1 year ago
As much as I like Ann Tyler's books, this was just, well, tedious
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful perspective on loss, grieving.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. Couldn't put it down. Great story. She's the best!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In The Beginner's Goodbye, Aaron, the narrator, who has been crippled and fussed over since childhood, must cope with the sudden and unexpected loss of his wife, Dorothy, who is also a bit of a misfit, and rebuild his life without her presence in it. Things are complicated by Dorthy's sudden and periodic reappearances. I enjoyed looking over Aaron's shoulder as he realizes that though he is surrounded by others who are sort of goofy, he is goofy, too (just as he and Dorothy always were, even if they didn't think so at the time), as he learns to say goodbye. An enjoyable novel, with some--as always with Tyler--lovely writing.
TrickyTINA More than 1 year ago
I eagerly await the release of each new Anne Tyler book, and I have enjoyed them all, including this one. The only fault that I can find with this book is that it was too short. It was only 146 color nook pages, which seems more like a novella than a book and $12.99 is too expensive for a novella. That being said, I still enjoyed reading this book, and really enjoyed getting to know each character. I'm rating it four stars, taking away one star for the brevity of the book itself.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For Anne Tyler fans (among whom I count myself), the arrival of a new novel of hers is a major literary event. Tyler¿s way of creating wonderfully quirky characters and placing them in universal life situations is probably what attracts so many of us to her work. Her fans know not to expect lots of action or overly complicated plots from her; the woman writes beautiful novels about people and what makes them tick. She has done it again with Aaron Woolcott and The Beginner¿s Goodbye. Aaron Woolcott and his spinster sister, Nandina, run Woolcott Publishing, a company with two basic sources of revenue: what, before the advent of self-published e-books, was called ¿vanity publishing¿ and a long series of books for ¿beginners¿ that are even more dumbed-down than the real-world ¿for dummies¿ series that is so popular. Aaron has recently lost his wife in a tragic, fluke accident and is struggling to say goodbye. He badly needs to feel a sense of closure but, because Dorothy died almost immediately after an argument with him, Aaron is too filled with regrets to let her go. Thus, the title of the book.The novel¿s self-description emphasizes how Aaron begins to see Dorothy at random intervals and places. Sometimes she speaks to him, sometimes she does not. Strangely, others often see Dorothy by Aaron¿s side, but they instinctively focus on Aaron and never acknowledge Dorothy¿s presence ¿ even, it seems, to themselves. Surprisingly enough, despite the book blurb¿s emphasis on it, Dorothy¿s return plays a much smaller role in the story than one might expect. The Beginner¿s Goodbye is about how one man comes to terms with his grief. I suspect that all of us handle grief somewhat differently and that we do not truly know ourselves until we are tested this way. Aaron prefers to handle it internally despite the number of sympathetic and loving co-workers and friends with which he is surrounded. It is easier for him to deny that he is suffering than to explain to his friends the level of grief he is feeling. But, as he will learn, the world continues to evolve, people change, and new relationships are formed. I find that the first and last sentences of The Beginner¿s Goodbye perfectly encapsulate Aaron¿s story:¿The strangest thing about my wife¿s return from the dead was how other people reacted.¿¿We go around and around in the world, and here we go again.¿This deceptively simple little novel has a lot to say about life and love. Anne Tyler fans will jump all over it. I hope that others less familiar with Tyler¿s work will not miss out.Rated at: 5.0
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading an Anne Tyler book is like putting on your most comfortable pair of jeans. They fit great, they are soft and worn in just the right places and you love them ¿ the easy familiarity.¿The Beginner¿s Goodbye¿ was reminiscent for me of the feeling I got while reading ¿The Accidental Tourist¿. There is quirkiness to Aaron, his sister and his wife Dorothy that made me think of Macon and his sister and Muriel. They are odd enough to be interesting without seeming weird. They feel what we feel ¿ but in a very unique way.¿All I saw was one black cat, an insultingly paranoid type who shrank off as I drew near. The solitude made me feel too tall.¿I enjoyed this quietly lovely story very much ¿ especially as it was described in Aaron¿s point of view. So many books have been written about grief, about the wrenching sense of loss after the death of a spouse:¿My body went on lying there, dull and achy, while my mind performed over and over the same frenetic chores. It was exhausting.¿But this book also touches on the day to day rebuilding of one¿s life and the reactions that one gets from other people. How contact with other people changes completely once a widow/widower status is conferred.¿We had not seen Roger and Ann-Marie since the previous Christmas, so there was the issue of Dorothy¿s death to be waded through. Roger was one of those people in favor of pretending it hadn¿t happened. He was clearly embarrassed that I had had the bad taste to show up, even.¿As long as Anne Tyler keeps writing book, I will keep picking them up. Just like my favorite jeans.
dianaleez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In her latest novel, ¿The Beginner¿s Goodbye,¿ Anne Tyler portrays the American way of dealing with the death of a loved one¿.which is usually not too well.Aaron loses his wife Dorothy in a freak accident when a tree falls on their house. One moment they¿re a couple - not as compatible as they¿d like, but still working at creating a good marriage - and then she¿s gone and he¿s alone. And Aaron, with support from family, friends, and neighbors, goes through shock, and sadness, and confusion, and all the other stages of grief that we know so well.But Aaron is a quirky Tyler character in that magical Tyler Baltimore that only she seems able to locate. And his journey through grief, though sad, will also be enlightening for both protagonist and reader.To say that Tyler is a master craftsman is an understatement. The novel¿s first sentence says it all: ¿The strangest thing about my wife¿s return from the dead was how other people reacted.¿Tyler¿s is a kinder, gentler view of humankind¿.she sees us as we are and as we wish to be. Dorothy¿s post-death visits force Aaron, once his grief has ebbed a bit, to give serious thought to their marriage and to his own failures and hopes.Tyler tells us that death is a leveler; that it hurts; that it can¿t be avoided. But that, with care, our lives, like Aaron¿s, will go on.(The publisher provided a review copy of this book.)
ken1952 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Can't say that this is a novel that's going to start any sparks in the literary community. Ann Tyler has certainly pleased many readers in her time. But this story is rather ordinary. She deals with grief...a subject quite fitting for a novel. But it's been done better. (Take note of Christopher Coakes's June release YOU CAME BACK.) And I didn't care much for any of the characters. Too bad. I really wanted to like it.
St.CroixSue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tyler¿s latest book is about a middle aged man who is jolted out of his rut by the untimely death of his wife. There is a supernatural twist when his wife Dorothy comes back to haunt as he works through his grief. Tyler is so very good at capturing everyday lifes and emotions, but I had difficulty relating to the sad sack main character was not too receptive to his conversations with Dorothy's ghost.
nancyewhite on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A bittersweet look at marriage and grief. Populated with the typical oddball Anne Tyler characters we watch as a young widower rebuilds his life after the unexpected death of his wife. The descriptions of his wife, coworkers and especially his annoying but beloved sister are delightful. If you like Anne Tyler, you'll enjoy this lovely novel.
mhsab on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. Appearances of Dorothy to Aaron after her death are beautifully described. Glorious mix of mundane and sublime. Amplifies questions about afterlife and meaning/purpose of life. Great ending: 'But i'm not so sure anymore that those who showed no surprise had forgotten she had died. maybe they remembered perfectly well. aybe they were just thinking, Of course. We go around and around in this world, and here we go again.
BevFuller on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This isn't one of my favorite Anne Tyler books, but it was still good. I love her quirky characters and always look forward to each and every one of her books.
bookappeal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
No one writes married couples better than Anne Tyler and she's back in great form with The Beginner's Goodbye. Aaron is an editor of a "Beginner's" series of books, grieving his wife so much that he starts to see (and speak to) her. While repairmen fix the damage done to his house by the falling tree that killed Dorothy, Aaron is at a loss how to move on without her. The marriage was quirky - Aaron with his physical handicaps and Dorothy with her emotional handicaps - but they loved each other. As the house is put whole, though, Aaron starts to appreciate the reality of his relationship with Dorothy and begins to find a way to say goodbye. Tyler manages to lace a husband's grief with a good deal of quiet humor for a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An introspective look at the various ways we grieve, the things that go into making us the person we become, and the assumption we make about our roles in a marriage and family. The main character, Aaron, quickly grew on me and I just loved the way he changed throughout the course of this relatively short book. In the beginning I thought this book was only so so but by the end I liked it quite a bit.
sharlene_w on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Written from the viewpoint of a man whose wife was killed suddenly in an accident. Interesting. One major flaw I felt was that her key characters (the husband and wife) seemed like old codgers rather than someone in their 30s--nothing youthful about either one of them. The husband seemed like someone in his 70s and the wife older!
shazjhb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. Maybe not the best Anne Tyler but at least it story was interesting and from a man's perspective.