I have always associated Anne Tyler with my stepmother, which is not to say that I expected her to be bad so much as targeting middle-aged women. I wasn't going out of my way to avoid her so much as just never getting around to her. That was clearly a mistake as this novel completely took the air out of my lungs.
Aaron, a thirty-something editor for his family's independent publishing company, was married to Dorothy for little more than a decade before she is killed in a freak accident. As he's trying to sort out his grief, he begins to see Dorothy hanging around. Not quite a ghost, he and Dorothy discuss the state of their marriage before her death as Aaron searches for a way to keep going.
This is an incredibly subtle novel. The story inside is relatively unremarkable - there was nothing special about Aaron's marriage, and there's sadly nothing special about his loss. It's the kind of thing that everyone is going to go through at some point in their life and Anne Tyler does not purport that Aaron's loss has special significance for anyone but him. He struggles through his grief in a perfectly expected way - he still shows up for work, avoids situations that set him up as an object of pity, and refuses to set go back to the house in which she died. He accepts casseroles from neighbors, writes polite thank-you letters, and cringes at the idea of being set up with a young widow. Tyler does not load her prose up with unnecessary sentiment, but it remains emotional and honest at the same time. When Aaron tries to hide the wedding ring he still wears from the recently engaged contractor working on his house: "No couple buying wedding rings wants to be reminded that someday one of them will have to accept the other one's ring from a nurse or an undertaker."
A beautiful examination of what it means to learn from loss and to continue to grow. I'd have read this book in one sitting if I'd had the foresight to start it before 9 PM. Now I clearly have to go back and read Anne Tyler's massive backlist.