A Perfect Page

Remember that poll from a few weeks ago, where you helped me choose a book to read based on which was the most “perfect opening paragraph”?

In case you were wondering, the three randomly selected novels in contention were Paul Theroux’s Murder in Mount Holly, Anne Tyler’s A Beginner’s Goodbye, and Goce Smilevski’s Freud’s Sister. Interestingly, Smilevski is a Macedonian author — how many of those do you see in the library these days?!

Tyler slightly edged out Theroux in the polls, but since the latter is such a slender book, I did the inadvisable: I started both at once.

Theroux’s novel turned out to be a quick read, more because of how insignificant the story was than because of its pageage (new word).

Tyler’s, on the other hand, I am savoring. She is a master at the novel form, and won a Pulitzer in the late 80s. I read Digging to America in 2013 and could tell immediately that I needed to read more, despite not particularly enjoying the plot of that novel as a whole. She has a remarkable way of giving the small things in life much bigger meaning.

I love this page below, from the middle of The Beginner’s Goodbye. Protagonist Aaron has lost his wife in a freak accident at the novel is about his resurfacing after — no, in spite of — forever grief. Perfect? Maybe not. But very observant, and very beautiful.

“Oh, all those annoying habits of hers that I 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. Big deal!

Her tendency to make a little too much of her medical degree when she was meeting new people. “I’m Dr Rosales,” she would say, instead of “I’m Dorothy,” so you could almost see the white coat even when she wasn’t wearing one. (Not that she actually met new people all that often. She had never seen the purpose in socializing.)

And those orthopedic-type shoes she had favored: they had struck me, at times, as self-righteous. They had seemed a deliberate demonstration of her seriousness, her high-mindedness — a pointed reproach to the rest of us.

I like to dwell on those shortcomings now. It wasn’t only that I was wondering why they had every annoyed me. I was hoping they would annoy me still, so that I could stop missing her.

But somehow, it didn’t work that way.

I wished I could let her know that I’d kept vigil in the hospital. I hated to think she might have felt she was going through that alone.

And wouldn’t she have been amused by all these casseroles.

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.”


One thought on “A Perfect Page

  1. Anne Tyler is a Baltimore gal- or at least has lived in Baltimore most of her adult years. It is always a surprise to me to read in black and white descriptions of places that I know. It seems like I am cheating because the descriptions are so concrete rather than an image in my mind’s eye. Wonder if people in NYC feel that way?
    Anyway, I cannot say that certain titles of hers stand out to me but rather her descriptions of situations and her quirky characters. However, I did like her novel Saint Maybe where the protagonist attends the Church of the Second Chance.

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