There's no other way to say it: gorgeous
The Biker's Diary
Monday, October 08, 2012 4:50 AM
"I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree."
For those of us past a certain age, this poem "Trees," by Joyce Kilmer was likely the first thing we were required to memorize in grade school. That's what has come to mind this past week as I admire - over and over - nature's handiwork. I do not recall any year when the palette of colors has been so bold and so stunning.
Besides the color, cool fall nights and mornings are a good reminder that, like everything else in our lives, this too will pass. So, I decided to get a head start on a favorite cold weather activity, which is curling up with a good book. Well, to be honest, that is a favorite activity not limited to cold weather!
Passing through the big bookstore recently I happened to spot a new book by one of my all-time favorite authors, Anne Tyler. The book that first caused me to become an avid fan of Tyler's was "The Accidental Tourist." Like all of her writing, it was both funny and sad. The main character was an international travel writer who hated to travel. So when he absolutely had to go abroad, he sought out the spots that were the most American, mainly American owned and operated - and themed - restaurants and hotels.
This latest book was "The Beginner's Goodbye" (NY: Alfred Knopf, 2012), described on the fly as "a wise, haunting and deeply moving new novel." It certainly is all that and more. The main character in this one is Aaron, a middle-aged man who is "partially crippled." But likely because of that plus, that she was the older of the two, his sister dominated his life. And despite that domination, he "broke free" by marrying a doctor, Dorothy, who was older than him, very independent and who definitely broke the "mold" of what women "should" be and do.
Their life together mostly occurs, except for his reminiscing, before the start of this tale. But evidently it was satisfying and relatively happy, like most long-term relationships. The book starts after her death, which in itself was simply bizarre: she was killed when a large tree fell on their house. There is a certain amount of guilt involved, because she was in that part of the house due to a mild disagreement. He is so devastated that he has, consciously or not, decided he will not repair the damage. So he is living in a mess, with a tarp covering the hole in the roof. Finally, heavy rains caused the tarp to break through and caused a ceiling to fall, and that plus electrical and other issues finally became problems too big to handle. He gave in to his sister and went to live with her.
Life went on, and then mostly to reduce the pressure he was getting from others, he hired a contractor to repair and restore the house. The contractor was a little puzzled, because Aaron seemed to have no interest in making the necessary decisions that come up with such a huge project. When asked about things such as what kind of wood he wanted on the floor, he basically gave the contractor carte blanche: whatever he thought.
Aaron for a long time also refused to go to the house, and so the contractor had to come to see him at his sister's home. Soon the contractor was stopping by every night, and then he was getting cleaned up before he came by. Then the contractor was staying for dinner, and finally Aaron caught on to the fact that something was "clicking" between his spinster sister and his contractor, a story within the story.
One day Aaron was out for a walk, and without being conscious of where he was going, found himself on his own street, not far from his house. And, "Then I rounded the bend, and I saw her standing on the sidewalk." That was the first of Dorothy's visits, and they exchanged only brief greetings before she "turned and walked away. But I didn't feel she was abandoning me. I knew, somehow, that she had stayed as long right then as she was able, and that she would come again as soon as she could. So I stood still and watched her leave...."
That first occurrence caused him to start visiting his house, often, in the hopes that she would appear again, which she did. And it also caused him to start taking an interest in what was being done to the house, and other things in life outside his own grief, even though at the time he did not realize that was what was happening.
His sister ran what had been the family publishing business started by their parents, and he worked there too. The company's bread-and-butter product was publishing "how to" books, modeled on the popular "Dummy" guides to everything. Popular titles were basics such as "The Beginner's Wine Guide," "The Beginner's Monthly Budget" and "The Beginner's Child Care."
The title of this book, "The Beginner's Goodbye," is based on Dorothy's visits. Aaron said early on that "It occurred to me at the beginning that Dorothy might have come back on some special assignment. She'd been permitted to return just long enough to tell me something, perhaps, after which she would be on her way." And she did eventually quit visiting, and then was on her way.
To say any more would spoil the surprise ending. Suffice it to say it was another great read from Tyler.
We are so fortunate to have such a spectacular landscape, which not only is a feast for our eyes but also a motivator for so many other things, such as spending time with a really good book. The leaves are also a lesson: they could be "The Beginner's Guide to Fall." Or that could be the subtitle for Kilmer's poem.