Macon Leary is a travel writer who hates both travel and anything out of the ordinary. He is grounded by loneliness and an unwillingness to compromise his creature comforts. Then he meets Muriel, a deliciously peculiar dog-obedience trainer who upends Macon’s insular world—and thrusts him headlong into a remarkable engagement with life.
“Bittersweet… Evocative… It’s easy to forget this is the warm lull of fiction; you half-expect to run into her characters at the dry cleaners.… Tyler [is] a writer of great compassion.” —The Boston Globe
“Tyler has given us an endlessly diverting book whose strength gathers gradually to become a genuinely thrilling one.” —Los Angeles Times
“A delight… A graceful comic novel about getting through life.” —The Wall Street Journal
“A rarely equaled richness and depth…delicious humor… Without Anne Tyler, American fiction would be an immeasurably bleaker place.” —Newsday
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
ANNE TYLER is the author of more than twenty novels. Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Date of Birth:October 25, 1941
Place of Birth:Minneapolis, Minnesota
Education:B.A., Duke University, 1961
Read an Excerpt
They were supposed to stay at the beach a week, but neither of them had the heart for it and they decided to come back early. Macon drove. Sarah sat next to him, leaning her head against the side window. Chips of cloudy sky showed through her tangled brown curls.
Macon wore a formal summer suit, his traveling suit—much more logical for traveling than jeans, he always said. Jeans had those stiff, hard seams and those rivets. Sarah wore a strapless terry beach dress. They might have been returning from two entirely different trips. Sarah had a tan but Macon didn’t. He was a tall, pale, gray-eyed man, with straight fair hair cut close to his head, and his skin was that thin kind that easily burns. He’d kept away from the sun during the middle part of every day.
Just past the start of the divided highway, the sky grew almost black and several enormous drops spattered the windshield. Sarah sat up straight. “Let’s hope it doesn’t rain,” she said.
“I don’t mind a little rain,” Macon said.
Sarah sat back again, but she kept her eyes on the road.
It was a Thursday morning. There wasn’t much traffic. They passed a pickup truck, then a van all covered with stickers from a hundred scenic attractions. The drops on the windshield grew closer together. Macon switched his wipers on. Tick-swoosh, they went—a lulling sound; and there was a gentle patter on the roof. Every now and then a gust of wind blew up. Rain flattened the long, pale grass at the sides of the road. It slanted across the boat lots, lumberyards, and discount furniture outlets, which already had a darkened look as if here it might have been raining for some time.
“Can you see all right?” Sarah asked.
“Of course,” Macon said. “This is nothing.”
They arrived behind a trailer truck whose rear wheels sent out arcs of spray. Macon swung to the left and passed. There was a moment of watery blindness till the truck had dropped behind. Sarah gripped the dashboard with one hand.
“I don’t know how you can see to drive,” she said.
“Maybe you should put on your glasses.”
“Putting on my glasses would help you to see?”
“Not me; you,” Macon said. “You’re focused on the windshield instead of the road.”
Sarah continued to grip the dashboard. She had a broad, smooth face that gave an impression of calm, but if you looked closely you’d notice the tension at the corners of her eyes.
The car drew in around them like a room. Their breaths fogged the windows. Earlier the air conditioner had been running and now some artificial chill remained, quickly turning dank, carrying with it the smell of mildew. They shot through an underpass. The rain stopped completely for one blank, startling second. Sarah gave a little gasp of relief, but even before it was uttered, the hammering on the roof resumed. She turned and gazed back longingly at the underpass. Macon sped ahead, with his hands relaxed on the wheel.
“Did you notice that boy with the motorcycle?” Sarah asked. She had to raise her voice; a steady, insistent roaring sound engulfed them.
“He was parked beneath the underpass.”
“It’s crazy to ride a motorcycle on a day like today,” Macon said. “Crazy to ride one any day. You’re so exposed to the elements.”
“We could do that,” Sarah said. “Stop and wait it out.”
“Sarah, if I felt we were in the slightest danger I’d have pulled over long ago.”
“Well, I don’t know that you would have,” Sarah said.
They passed a field where the rain seemed to fall in sheets, layers and layers of rain beating down the cornstalks, flooding the rutted soil. Great lashings of water flung themselves at the windshield. Macon switched his wiper blades to high.
“I don’t know that you really care that much,” Sarah said. “Do you?”
Macon said, “Care?”
“I said to you the other day, I said, ‘Macon, now that Ethan’s dead I sometimes wonder if there’s any point to life.’ Do you remember what you answered?”
“Well, not offhand,” Macon said.
“You said, ‘Honey, to tell the truth, it never seemed to me there was all that much point to begin with.’ Those were your exact words.”
“Um . . .”
“And you don’t even know what was wrong with that.”
“No, I guess I don’t,” Macon said.
He passed a line of cars that had parked at the side of the road, their windows opaque, their gleaming surfaces bouncing back the rain in shallow explosions. One car was slightly tipped, as if about to fall into the muddy torrent that churned and raced in the gully. Macon kept a steady speed.
“You’re not a comfort, Macon,” Sarah said.
“Honey, I’m trying to be.”
“You just go on your same old way like before. Your little routines and rituals, depressing habits, day after day. No comfort at all.”
“Shouldn’t I need comfort too?” Macon asked. “You’re not the only one, Sarah. I don’t know why you feel it’s your loss alone.”
“Well, I just do, sometimes,” Sarah said.
They were quiet a moment. A wide lake, it seemed, in the center of the highway crashed against the underside of the car and slammed it to the right. Macon pumped his brakes and drove on.
“This rain, for instance,” Sarah said. “You know it makes me nervous. What harm would it do to wait it out? You’d be showing some concern. You’d be telling me we’re in this together.”
Macon peered through the windshield, which was streaming so that it seemed marbled. He said, “I’ve got a system, Sarah. You know I drive according to a system.”
“You and your systems!”
“Also,” he said, “if you don’t see any point to life, I can’t figure why a rainstorm would make you nervous.”
Sarah slumped in her seat.
“Will you look at that!” he said. “A mobile home’s washed clear across that trailer park.”
“Macon, I want a divorce,” Sarah told him.
Macon braked and glanced over at her. “What?” he said. The car swerved. He had to face forward again. “What did I say?” he asked. “What did it mean?”
“I just can’t live with you anymore,” Sarah said.
Macon went on watching the road, but his nose seemed sharper and whiter, as if the skin of his face had been pulled tight. He cleared his throat. He said, “Honey. Listen. It’s been a hard year. We’ve had a hard time. People who lose a child often feel this way; everybody says so; everybody says it’s a terrible strain on a marriage—”
“I’d like to find a place of my own as soon as we get back,” Sarah told him.
“Place of your own,” Macon echoed, but he spoke so softly, and the rain beat so loudly on the roof, it looked as if he were only moving his lips. “Well,” he said. “All right. If that’s what you really want.”
“You can keep the house,” Sarah said. “You never did like moving.”
For some reason, it was this that made her finally break down. She turned away sharply. Macon switched his right blinker on. He pulled into a Texaco station, parked beneath the overhang, and cut off the engine. Then he started rubbing his knees with his palms. Sarah huddled in her corner. The only sound was the drumming of rain on the overhang far above them.
Reading Group Guide
1. Would you characterize yourself as an accidental tourist in your own life? Do you know anyone you might consider an accidental tourist?
2. What kind of traveler are you? Would you find Macon's guides helpful?
3. Macon has come up with a technique to avoid contact with others on airplanes. Public transportation can lead to an awkward intimacy with strangers. How do you handle such situations? Does
Macon's approach work for you?
4. There was no memorial service for Ethan in Baltimore. Whose idea do you think that was? Do you agree with Garner, Macon's neighbor, who chastises him for not having one?
5. Macon's style of mourning offends many people, including his wife. Do their complaints have any merit?
6. According to Macon, "it was their immunity to time that made the dead so heartbreaking." Discuss the meaning of this statement.
7. What is the significance of Macon and Susan's conversation about
Ethan? What do they each gain from it?
8. Why doesn't Macon repair his house after it is seriously damaged by water?
9. The loss of a child can be devastating to a marriage. How do you think a relationship survives such a cataclysmic event?
10. Macon believes he became a different person for Sarah. How much do we change in the name of love? How much should we change?
11. Do you think Sarah ever really understood Macon?
12. Macon realizes that while he and Sarah tried too hard to have a child, once they had Ethan, it made their differences that much more glaring. Do you think they would have remained together if
Ethan had lived?
13. Macon remarks that "he just didn't want to get involved" with
Muriel and her messy life, but somehow he has. Does this ring true? Did Muriel simply overwhelm him?
14. Initially, Macon and Alexander are very wary of each other. Discuss the nature of Macon and Alexander's relationship and what they have to offer each other.
15. Rose decides to love Julian despite her brothers' obvious disapproval.
What do you think drives her to make such a difficult decision?
16. Julian describes Rose's retreat back to the Leary house as though she'd worn herself a groove or something in that house of hers,
and she couldn't help swerving back into it. Do you think Rose has made a mistake?
17. Do you find yourself as fascinated by the Learys as Julian is? Why or why not?
18. When Rose declares that she and her siblings are the most conventional people she knows, Macon cannot explain why he disagrees with her. Can you?
19. Do you think the Learys' will ever purchase an answering machine? Do you think Julian might slip one in the house?
20. Do you or does anyone you know suffer from geographic dyslexia?
21. Why does Sarah return to Macon? Do you think they could have worked it out or had they used each other up?
22. Macon does not think he has ever taken steps in his life and acted.
Do you think this insight is accurate, or is it a product of the helplessness he feels in the wake of his son's death?
23. Do you think Macon has made the right decision in the end? Will the relationship work out?
24. Do you think any of the couples in this novel stand a chance?
25. In the end, Macon comforts himself with the thought that perhaps the dead age, and are part of the flow of time. Does this idea comfort you?
26. If you could learn more about a particular character in this novel,
which would it be and why?
27. Would your group recommend this novel to other reading groups? How does this novel compare to other works the group has read?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read this about 20 years ago and recall it as a powerful, insightful book. Just over a year ago I lost a son, and so this year I decided to plunge back in, expecting comfort, connection via fiction, a new way of coming to understanding. Instead I found myself saying over and over again to myself, "Sorry Ms. Tyler, you missed that too." The plot seems forced, the love affair between the mourning father and his new girlfriend cliche, and the ending too easy and predictable. More than that, sorry, but as an act of imagination, it simply doesn't get close to the confusion and pain of this kind of grief, at least for me. As ever with Tyler's writing, though, it is well-crafted. But the humaneness and wisdom I once thought this book contained turns out, now that I've experienced something like what she tries to convey, as shallow and failed empathy. The characters and emotions became to me, in the end, contrivances, not real, and given the subject matter she was attempting too confront, not true enough by half.
I had high hopes for this book, but it did not meet them. As I read, I kept thinking it would get better; that something would earn my interest -- it never did. To me it felt like Tyler couldn't decide whether to write her characters as caricatures or purely boring beings. So in the end, it felt like an awful mixture of people who made no sense whatsoever. The worst was that the characters would suddenly have wonderful insights into life (i.e., when Macon felt Muriel's cesarian scar), which made no sense since no one in the book seemed to be functioning on any rationally thinking level at any other moment in the book. Ultimately, the characters were so poorly written that I couldn't even gain interest in the story, which had a lot of potential in my opinion. It felt like a poor-man's version of Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, which is remarkably better on all fronts. Perhaps I shouldn't compare because they are slightly different, but that was all I could think about the entire time I read this book.
I read this book for my English class this year, and it has stuck with me ever since. Anne Tyler's characters are well-developed and quirky, and the plot is very moving. This book definitely made me stop and thing about my own life and how I'm choosing to live it.
This novel once again shows us characters that we could easily know or have as friends and family. What will Macon do with his life now that his son died and his wife left him? His job as the writer of tourist guides parallels how he needs a guide to his own life.
I wanted to love this book, especially reading the editorial reviews on the jacket, but I just didn't. I thought maybe I missed something until I read some of the other reader reviews. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what wasn't there for me. Maybe the book was trying to capture the stupor that occurs after losing someone very close to you (I lost my husband in a tragic way), but if that was the case, it failed. I couldn't connect to Macon's meandering methods. I actually found him to be more lazy than lost (or grieving), and I found Muriel to be a test of my patience. It's hard to like a book when you don't like its characters, but I totally admit that my own situation is the lens through which I am judging. While I did not feel enriched by reading the story, it certainly punctuates the fact that everyone grieves differently and that your life will never be the same as you try to carry on after such a personal loss.
Macon and his brothers and sister are such a peculiar family--very rooted in their traditions and habits, yet Macon's life begins to change when his wife decides to leave him. Macon is a character who is very precise and a creature of habit. He seems to be a homebody and craves control, especially when he feels he has none. For a man who hates to travel, his job demands it. He writes small guidebooks for businessmen to use on trips--where to get the best meal, the best hotel, the best little comforts at home, while in a new city. His loneliness and out-of-control dog almost force him to strike up a friendship with eccentric Muriel, who claims she can teach his dog new tricks. Her unconventional personality is so opposite of Macon and before he knows it, he's living life in a completely new way. I love the message that it's never too late to start living life and doing so in the here-and-now. When his life takes an unexpected twist, Macon is forced to evaluate who he really is, who he has become, and who he wants to be...what does he really want out of life and how is he going to live it? The self-introspection is almost as entertaining as the process of growth that Macon endures. The characters and situations had me engaged and laughing, as I tried to picture what could possibly happen next. The characters are so quirky and unique--in actions, personality, and in words. This is an enjoyable read with a quaint writing style. Content: I am traditional in my values and wasn't too happy that Macon was so "quick" to strike up a "friendship" with Muriel, while technically still married to Sarah (implied intimacy; innuendo--technically clean). There's also a smattering of some mild-moderate language.
This tragic yet warm story had everything including a dog, romance, and quirkiness.
Although I did enjoy the book, I most likely would not have read it if I had known it was a "sit around and discuss the implications/impact it had" kind of book. I mostly like to read for entertainment and this is more of a sit and think about it kind of book. Great if you like that kind of read.
Macon is someone that I could never like in real life. He is boring, stodgy, and does not engage in the world around him. He better stick with Muriel since she is his only chance of leaving his grey sweats behind. It was hard to get through this book.
Macon Leary is a man stuck in his ways. He's so eccentric I almost disliked him in the beginning...until I met his family. They're all the same way. Macon is the author of unique travel books centered around business travel. The problem is Macon doesn't like to travel, doesn't like meeting new people, doesn't like being in unfamiliar places. Upon separating from his wife Macon's whole life turns upside down. He learns how to feel emotions, to see the world as if through the eyes of a completely different person. The Accidental Tourist takes you on a journey of awakening and growth.
A great book, well written and captivating. The story of a reluctant travel writer who breaks out of the rut of his life when he meets an eclectic dog trainer.A much better novel, in my opinion, than Breathing Lessons, for which Anne Tyler won the Pulitzer. There were moments in Breathing Lessons when I just wished the novel would stop - it was too long, but this novel is much more balanced and is a pleasure to read.
A decent read, but I didn't love it, for the following reasons:1. The dog training scenes were unrealistic, and borderline cruel. I realize this isn't a dog training book. I only hope that Anne Tyler is a cat person.2. Muriel's desperation was overwhelming, and off-putting.3. My usual complaint about character development and show-versus-tell. I did not discover Macon, he was handed to me as a pre-packaged collection of quirks and tragic back story.
I read this for a book club. I very much wanted to like the book, but within the first few pages was burdened by informative dialogue and a protagonist whom by his very nature didn't want to go anywhere. Inevitably, the plot really doesn't go anywhere either, and I can believe it when the author states that she created only a one page narrative outline before writing the book. At the end, we're stuck with characters we don't really care about and a contrived ending that has no real lasting impact. I don't mean to sound harsh, but the banality was just too much for me.
Macon Leary is a sad sack of a guy who is obsessed with efficiency and finding the path of least resistance. Up to this point he's lived his life with a minimum of effort, including his 20 years of marriage and his career as a reluctant travel writer. Tragedy shakes Macon to his core when his 14-year-old son is murdered. Macon's wife, unable to cope with both her grief and her husband's seemingly cold demeanor, leaves the marriage. Macon begins to fall apart. Then he meets Muriel, a disheveled, youthful dog trainer. Her exuberance for life is equal parts exhausting and infectious for Macon, his frozen heart begins to thaw.The story was very predictable but still enjoyable. The strength in the story was in the characters, each an extreme of one personality type or another. Considering that the tragic murder of Macon's son overshadows the whole story I felt that the novel's tone as a romantic comedy was a bit off putting. The characters are so unrealistic as to be funny, which (to me) felt strange next to a very real tragedy like the murder of a child. The novel carried me along, though, despite that mismatched quality, right up to the charming and predictable end.
This was the 1st Anee Tyler book I read. I also read Breathing Lessons later on.
Funny story about two different people colliding and changing each other for the better. Tyler is witty and creates a believable, lovable character out of Macon, one who I found myself cheering for the whole book, even if he possesses some annoying traits.
This is one of my favorite books . . . I just love the characters and the book is just so well done.It's about this man, very stuck in his ways who writes the Accidental Tourist series--travel books for businessmen who hate to travel. After his son dies, his wife leaves him and he moves in with his sister and brothers. He is becoming more and more depressed until this quirky, strange pet training lady comes into his life and shakes him up a bit.
This is a wonderful book, filled with humor even though a tragic event is the turning point. It is the most Baltimorean book that I know, and anyone who has a Baltimore connection should read it.
Wasn't really sure if this was going to be my cup of tea in the beginning but I warmed to it greatly. Well written and easy to read with more plot than I was expecting but it's really about the character development.
Like his brothers and sister, Macon Leary slides into a rigid and stultifying familiarity, but finally wakes up, makes a decision, and chooses life. I didn't find it very credible, but it's a perceptive and beautifully written story.
Loved the book, loved the movie.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERSI'd never read anything by Anne Tyler before, and I was pleasantly affected by her writing. Her characters, however odd and unfamiliar, really seem to come alive. I didn't identify well with them, but I really came to know them and understand the reasons for their actions.However, I felt that the conclusion was a little rushed. The first half of the book taking place in Macon's family home, then the second act, if you will, his relationship with Muriel, then the third section where he moves home with Sarah, then goes to Paris....just wasn't as well-developed. The choices Macon makes at the end seem to come out of nowhere. Like, all of a sudden he's back at home and it just wasn't described. There's a flash back later, but it feels like just that. A flash back. Then, just when you think it's going to be over and he and Sarah have both grown enough to be together, he inexplicably chooses Muriel. I just didn't really understand. I found Muriel eccentric and fun, at first, and was really pleased with her and her influence on Macon. Then she got all pushy and annoying, which I felt was a device for getting the reader prepared for Macon to return to Sarah. Then, Muriel follows Macon to Paris, and I was like, "Hello, stalker?" And that just shouldn't work. You shouldn't leave your wife for your stalker. Which, really, is what she was. Macon just goes along with it, even from the beginning. I liked Alexander, though, and am glad for his sake that Macon will return to his life.
This was the first Anne Tyler book I read, and she hooked me on the rest. I sympathize with the main character's quirks as I have some of them myself, and the introduction of the wacky woman worked for the story.
Quite a slow book, mostly happening in the travel writer's head. Since I prefer plot-driven books, I have not given this a high rating. However, no one can flesh out a character like Anne Tyler and this is an excellent character study.
Not all that crazy about Ann Tyler's quirky characters when I read this - had to grow into tyler