Tag Archives: Baltimore

Book Review: “The Beginner’s Goodbye,” by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler’s 19th novel, The Beginner’s Goodbye, is about holding on and letting go. Aaron Woolcott and his wife, Dorothy, have a typical marriage, with ups and downs, love and pain, and unspoken grudges. One day, after a minor spat, a tree topples over on the sun room of their home, killing Dorothy.

Set in Baltimore, where many of her novels take place, the story centers on the months following Dorothy’s death. After 11 years of marriage, Aaron cannot let go. He doggedly goes about his business, rejecting the sympathies and kindness extended by friends, until one day Dorothy’s ghost appears. In the hands of a lesser writer, this device might seem like a cheap ploy. Tyler uses the ghost of Dorothy to delve into the unresolved issues that haunt Aaron. Through his unexpected meetings with Dorothy, Aaron probes the small hurts that festered during their marriage as he yearns for resolution.

Aaron is a sympathetic main character. He is an unremarkable every-man, who has a crippled arm and leg and speaks with an occasional stutter. He was initially attracted to Dorothy, a doctor, because she took no notice of his handicap.

Although this is one of Tyler’s shortest books, at roughly 200 pages, it has a lot to say about love, marriage, and the fragility of intimate relationships. When his marriage is cut short, Aaron struggles to find normalcy in his life. He drags his feet on repairing his home until his take-charge sister, Nandina (a sharply drawn character) nudges him into action. His friends try to cheer him up. There is one hilarious scene where two of his male friends invite him to a restaurant for dinner and spend the entire evening not talking about their wives because they don’t want to bring up the memory of Aaron’s loss.

Tyler finds the most interesting occupations for her main characters. In this case, Aaron works in the family business, a boutique publishing company in which the authors pay to have their work published. This is perhaps a wry observation and commentary by Tyler of the current state of the publishing industry. The publishing house’s speciality are “how to” books called “The Beginners” series, which explains the title of the novel. In one scene, Aaron struggles as he slogs through a deadly memoir of an old man’s experiences in World War II in which the writer described every boring detail of his life as a soldier, and none of the terror of war.

This story ultimately is about love, loss, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Like all of Tyler’s work, The Beginner’s Goodbye is a masterfully prepared and satisfying entre, spiced with quirky, loveable characters.

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Doctor Print vs. Mister Kindle

When it comes to print books versus e-books, the reader in me is in a Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde tussle. As Billy Martin said in the “taste great/less filling” beer commercial, I feel very strongly both ways. The true test is when you’re traveling. What do you take with you: a book or your e-reader? On a recent business trip to Kansas City, I couldn’t decide so I took my Kindle–and two paperback books.

I was tempted to go solo with the Kindle, but there are those few minutes when the plane is taking off and the captain tells the passengers to power off all electronic devices. Besides, it’s nice to have a good paperback (or two) in the unlikely event that my Kindle dies or the battery runs low. And since I happened to be reading three books at the same time (my wife thinks I’m crazy for doing that) I brought them all.

In the terminal, I was enjoying the second novel in Kathryn Magendie’s trilogy, Secret Graces. I had my music in my ear buds. I was a happy camper. When I powered off on the plane, I switched to Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird. Since I was almost done, I also brought Bernard Malamud’s The Natural. I was just getting into one of Anne’s excellent craft essays when we hit 10,000 feet and it was back to the story of Virginia Kate Carey. Landing on the first leg of the flight in Baltimore, I had to abandon Virginia Kate in the middle of a dramatic scene and I nearly finished off Bird by Bird.

The longer leg of the flight to Kansas City took me back to Secret Graces and I made great progress, aided by Wilco in my ear buds. I completed Bird by Bird on the descent to Kansas City.

The next afternoon I returned home and cracked open The Natural, continuing to enjoy the exploits of Roy Hobbs as he smote the ball to lead the New York Knights out of the doldrums. At 10,000 feet it was back to Secret Graces for a long stretch. By the time I returned to The Natural, the Knights had risen to third place in the league.

The short flight from Baltimore to Hartford-Springfield had me juggling the two books. I was again forced to leave Virginia Kate during one of the most dramatic scenes in the book. Meanwhile, in The Natural, fans were celebrating Roy Hobbs Day at Knights Field. And then the plot took a sharp turn and that’s where I left off.

The fact is I still love the feel and the experience of e-books, but it’s nice to read about that hot New York Times bestseller and have it on your Kindle within seconds.

Do you prefer print books or e-books? Are you like me and enjoy both?

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