He was an ordinary man. There was nothing remarkable about him; unless you consider that he had partial paralysis on one side of his body; a result of a childhood illness. Aaron Woolcott did not let this physical limitation get in his way, or at least he didn’t think he did.
He played ball, he drove a car; he did pretty much what he wanted to do. But then, tragedy pushes Aaron to do some introspection where he sees himself in a new light. The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler follows a young widower as he deals with grief, thinking at first he had lost everything only to discover he had not yet found what he truly wanted.
Aaron had spent most of his life fighting the protection that his mother and sister tried to envelop him in. That’s why when he met Dorothy; he thought he had found the perfect mate. She was direct, a rather matter-of-fact type person. She did not feel the need to coddle him, nor did she flinch, as many did, the first time she was a passenger in his handicapped adapted car. One day, the unthinkable happened; Dorothy was tragically killed when a tree fell on their house -- moments after they had had a rather pointless and unsettled argument.
Aaron limps through the stages of loss; emotional paralysis, loneliness, grief. Going to work at the vanity press business started by his late father helps give him some focus and allows him to ignore many issues that he needs to deal with. It is until Dorothy begins “visiting” him that Aaron starts processing his emotions. As you might expect, he is the only one who can see these visitations, but he does not question their reality. He never knows when and where she will appear, or what, if anything, she will say. At first Aaron just enjoys these brief moments with the woman he loves and misses. In time though, he starts pushing the conversation in hopes of understanding not just his grief but the relationship he had with his wife. Was their marriage as good as he had thought it was?
The Beginner’s Goodbye is not driven by plot. As with other Anne Tyler books, she focuses on the foibles of characters as they encounter the trials of life. Her forte is having the pulse on the inner workings of the human heart. She realistically draws imperfect people with sympathy but not with sentimentality. Although it deals with grief, this is not a sad or maudlin book. Humor has its role in the day-to-day life Aaron encounters. I don’t need to explain this to Anne Tyler fans. This book fits the genre she has created for herself. Readers will not be disappointed.