book review: The Beginner’s Goodbye, by Anne Tyler

This review contains spoilers!

The Beginner’s Goodbye is fewer than 200 pages long, and some aspects of it felt too slight. It’s a first-person narrative, but the beginning is strangely summary-like, flitting from incident to incident in the narrator’s attempt to explain the phenomenon of his dead wife’s reappearance and his theories on why it might be happening. It isn’t until 25 pages in that we see the circumstances of her sudden death…and those scenes, at their house and in the hospital, are masterful. The unreality, the weird details, the dialogue and misunderstandings, all perfect. The book is worth reading for these ten pages.

The portrait of grief that follows, however, didn’t bring much I haven’t seen before in Anne Tyler’s other books. It reminded me very much of The Accidental Tourist after Sarah leaves Macon, but without the humor of Macon’s devising his domestic systems. This protagonist even has a job similar to Macon’s– he edits a series of questionable how-to books for beginners on every conceivable topic. And as in Tourist, someone the protagonist knows in a professional capacity starts dating his sister…but unlike in Tourist, there’s not much tension, as we have every indication the guy is decent and successful and it’s a good match.

I wouldn’t say that this was merely Accidental Tourist Lite, but I did feel that a lot was left undeveloped, or mentioned too late. The new love interest at the end seemed almost random, like the narrator could have picked a different co-worker just as easily, to show us the importance of getting to know, love, and cherish someone because time goes so quickly. Turns out he and his new wife have known each other since first grade, which would have colored their relationship for me throughout the book, but I didn’t know til near the end.

The observations and word choices I have admired for so many years are still here (this is Anne Tyler’s nineteenth novel). Yes, Thanksgiving sweet potatoes are cobbled with mini-marshmallows. Yes, 911 dispatchers’ questions sound like statements, with the pitch going down at the end. The doctor’s chef-like clogs and too-long pants and crisp white coat rumpled by the practical satchel strap, and her blunt bad haircut, are perfectly in focus in my head. But not so much the history and texture of the marriage, though we’re dutifully told about their first meeting, courtship, wedding, squabbles. Maybe the problem is that the narrator is waking up to the missed opportunities and misconceptions he had, and we the readers aren’t getting there any faster than he is. I spent a lot of the book not being able to see as much as I wanted.

Daniel Pinkwater and Anne Tyler are two authors who have meant a lot to me (a lot!) over the years, but whose books I don’t rush to anymore. Maybe the part of me that drank up their work got saturated at some point. Even if their new stuff is just as wonderful–and I can’t really tell if it is or not, I can only tell that it’s largely the same–I can’t imagine loving it the way I loved the older work that I was so thirsty for.

Ramen: Paldo Stir-Fried Kimchi Noodles

I didn’t do a price-check of which ramen varieties cost how much at FuBonn– the trip was a Christmas present, after all. But I’ll be curious to see if Paldo Stir-Fried Kimchi Noodles charge a premium. It’s a big packet, and get this: there’s an inner pouch of not-dried kimchi! In liquid, I mean: it doesn’t seem right to call kimchi “fresh.”

It was the real stuff, and only cemented my fondness for Paldo. Sanguinity also approved. Or perhaps I should say, “My companion also approved.” This random bit from The Accidental Tourist pops into my head whenever I add someone else’s opinion to my review:

Next they went to a place that a reader had suggested, and Susan had walnut waffles. She said they were excellent. “Are you going to quote me on this?” she asked. “Will you put my name in your book and say I recommend the waffles?”

“It’s not that kind of a book,” he told her.

“Call me your companion. That’s what restaurant critics do. ‘My companion, Susan Leary, pronounced the waffles remarkable.'”

Macon laughed and signaled for their bill.

As I walked the dog after supper, I wondered idly why Paldo called the ramen flavor Stir-Fried Kimchi. Maybe to emphasize that there’s oil in it? Or to make it sound like more work went into it? But a comment on Journey Into the World of Ramen said this:

the sour, bitter taste of the soup is on purpose. that is because when korean people (such as myself) stir-fry their kimci, it’s the usually leftover kimchi that’s been sitting in the fridge for a while. many people (at least 1/3 of korean, as far as i know.) prefer this type of sour, slightly bitter tasting kimchi over the fresh kimchi.

I liked it; it’s going on the shortlist to buy again. Sometime. I have one more ramen packet to try, but I won’t make another shopping trip right away. Apparently when left to my own devices I’ll eat ramen almost every day, and I’m not running the mileage to soak up so many calories and salt mg!