On a day when his office-mates send him home, ill with a cold, Aaron Woolcott's wife, Dorothy, arrives home unexpectedly early too. After an argument, over something silly, she is killed in a terrible accident. A tree that has been consistently checked for its safety, falls on their house. Aaron is devastated and guilt ridden. Could he have behaved differently and changed the course of events? He is saddened by the thoughts of things he did and things he didn't do, things that were said and things that remained unsaid, things that will now, never be said.
As time passes, Aaron begins to see his late wife Dorothy in unexpected places, and at unexpected times. The reader even gets the feeling that she is also seen by others, but the reader can never be sure. Has she returned to him? Through these visits from Dorothy, he works out the problems they shared. She confides in him and tells him things he never knew about her before, which adds to his wonder. Is she real or is his imagination returning her spirit to him in order for him to discover solutions to work out his grief?
Aaron Woolcott is in the publishing business started by his family, and the company is working on a series of beginner's books: the beginner's book of marriage, the beginner's book of menopause, the beginner's book of pregnancy, etc. With this book, we watch Aaron work out the beginner's book of a widower, the beginner's book of grief. We watch him learn to cope with his loss. As the title hints, it is the beginner’s book of how to say good bye.
After the accident, Aaron finds he cannot return to the home he shared with Dorothy. It is the scene of the "crime", so he moves in with his sister Nandina, to his childhood home. He takes nothing with him; he leaves his life behind. He even buys a new razor because he can't bear to return to the house to get the one he left there. Finally, when the house deteriorates further, he has no choice but to hire a contractor to repair it, and with the rebuilding of the house, he also begins to rebuild his life.
Everyone tries to be kind and sympathetic toward him. They bring him casseroles for dinner, extend invitations to dinner, try to introduce him to friends, but he wants to be left alone. Dorothy was his whole life. He feels uncomfortable in social situations, but soon, he wants to get back into some activity. He wants to play racquetball with his friends again, but they want to invite him to dinner, thinking he is not ready for racquetball. Gradually, his life does begin to resume in some fashion, although, he becomes short tempered and angry at times. We are with him as he works through his loneliness.
I found the book to be well written, as Tyler's books are, but this one was a little too simplistic for me. I read "An Available Man", by Hilma Wolitzer, another book about a man, Edward Schuyler, who was also overcoming the loss of his wife, adjusting to life alone with the attentions of friends and family, sometimes wanted and sometimes unwanted. I believe that novel had more depth and more interesting characters, perhaps engaging me as a reader more, encouraging me to think about the grieving process more intensely and inspiring me to identify with the character's emotions more deeply.