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by Anne Tyler

Pub Date: April 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-95727-6
Publisher: Knopf

Though the plot finds a man in early middle age coming to terms with the death of his wife, the tone of this whimsical fable is so light that it practically floats off the page.

Some might consider the latest from Tyler (Noah’s Compass, 2010, etc.) typically wise and charming, while others will dismiss it as cloying. She employs a first-person narrator, a 36-year-old man named Aaron, who works for a small-family publishing firm that specializes in its Beginners series. “These were something on the order of the Dummies books, but without the cheerleader tone of voice,” explains Aaron, who proceeds to offer the sort of insight that could come from almost any Tyler novel: “Anything is manageable if it’s divided into small enough increments, was the theory, even life’s most complicated lessons.” At the start of the book, Aaron is in the beginning stages of mourning, after a tree crashed through his house and crushed his slightly older wife. She was a doctor; Aaron is “crippled” and something of an oddball. As Tyler’s readers recognize, we are each of us crippled and oddball, deep down inside, and the fact that Aaron’s was a marriage of misfits makes it no different from any other. Early on, Aaron receives visits from his dead wife, whom no one else can see, and whom he admits might well be a projection or an apparition. If he is an unreliable narrator, he is also a flawed one, often sounding more like a much older woman than like a man his age (very few of whom use terms like “busy-busy”). Mourning is both a rite of passage and a process of discovery for Aaron, who early worries that, “I can’t do this…I don’t know how. They don’t offer any courses in this; I haven’t had any practice,” but who is ultimately not a tragic but comic figure, one who will (more or less) live happily ever after.

An uncharacteristically slight work by a major novelist.