The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

November 28, 2013

beginner's goodbye Plot summary (from the publisher): Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron grew up fending off a sister who constantly wanted to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, an outspoken, independent young woman, she’s like a breath of fresh air. He marries her without hesitation, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. Aaron works at his family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life. 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—in their house, on the roadway, in the market—help him to live in the moment and to find some peace. Gradually, Aaron discovers that maybe for this beginner there is indeed a way to say goodbye.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • I thought this started out with a fairly sweet premise: a recent widower conjures up images of his dead wife as a way of working through his grief. If Tyler had stuck to that premise, I probably would have enjoyed the story a lot more.
  • Some of the “Beginner’s” book ideas that Tyler incorporated into the story actually sounded like they would sell well. It would probably be hard to compete with the Dummies and Complete Idiot’s series, but still. It’s too bad these books don’t really exist.


  • Aaron turned into an insufferably, whiny ass about 1/4 of the way through the book. At first he was likeable enough, but I got tired of his constant complaining very quickly.
  • It seemed an odd choice for Tyler to make it so that Aaron realizes he didn’t even love Dorothy all that much. Why go to the trouble of dreaming her up and agonizing over what it all meant if the end result was just going to be, “Hey, we didn’t get along that well and probably shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place!”
  • The ending was far too pat for me. How convenient that Aaron worked alongside a woman that had secretly been in love with him since high school and had no trouble forgiving all his faults. How convenient that Nandine and the construction worker hit if off, even though she was described as being hard to date. How sickly sweet that they all ended up living next to each other and each had kids around the same age so they could all be one big, happy family. Puke.


I’m not sure why I even bothered to read The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler. I think I might have liked this author once upon a time (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant maybe?) but haven’t read or enjoyed anything from her in years. The Beginner’s Goodbye was no different, with boring characters, repetitive scenes, and a predictable plot. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.

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