There are millions of books about relationships between men and women, among them a considerable amount about married couples. Some of these talk about coping with the loss of a loved one. But how is this book different from all others that tell the stories of widowers?
Let’s begin with the couple in question: Aaron Woolcott, the protagonist of the novel, is handicapped after an illness he had in his infancy. The illness left one of his legs shorter than the other and made his right hand resemble a chicken wing. He joined the family business – a publishing company that specializes in ‘vanity’ manuscripts and a series of books “The beginner’s…” that strongly resemble the famous “For dummies” book series. “The beginner’s…” as also where the novel’s title comes from.
“That was one of the worst things about losing your wife, I found: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with.”
Aaron does not think of himself as handicapped, even if he does have to drive a specially designed car and walk with a cane. He tends to forget the latter everywhere. It is Aaron who tells the reader the story of love, loss and love again, that he experiences in his life.
Aaron’s wife, Dorothy or Dr. Rosales, as she usually introduces herself, did not present an image of a good wife, according to Aaron. She had ‘one of those annoying habits that [he] used to chafe at – the trail of crumpled tissues and empty coffee mugs she left in her wake, her disregard for the finer points of domestic order and comfort’. Moreover, she did not appreciate Aaron’s culinary achievements and this greatly offended him. Through bits and pieces of Aaron’s story we put together a picture book of his and Dorothy’s courting and marriage. We come to the same conclusion that Aaron did – that they were not happy.
Even still, after Dorothy dies in a horrible accident involving a tree, Aaron suffers an immeasurable feeling of loss. His colleagues, friends and neighbors actively try to help Aaron to move on with his life. Their attempts are not particularly appreciated. The story gets an emotional twist when Aaron starts to not only see but talk to Dorothy’s ‘ghost’.
The value of this book is its organic simplicity. It does not provide a step-by-step guide to grieving and moving on with one’s life after the death of a spouse. But it does bring a real life story to the reader. The point of view of the storytelling gives us an opportunity to closely follow Aaron’s routine, his thoughts and opinions about people in his life and his closely knit world that is destroyed by the tree and then built up again.
London: Vintage, 2013
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