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Anne Tyler: The Accidental Tourist

Macon Leary, like other Tyler heroes, a somewhat eccentric character from Baltimore, is a writer of travel books for people who don’t like to travel. His books were called The Accidental Tourist in France, The Accidental Tourist in Germany and so on and offered such useful advice for US tourists as what restaurants in Tokyo offered Sweet’n’Low and what hotels in Madrid boasted king-size Beautyrest mattresses. In short, these books were for tourists who, like their author, wanted to get back to the USA as soon as possible. Macon is married to Sarah. They have a twelve-year old son, Ethan, who is killed during a holdup at a fast food outlet. The stress on the marriage of their son’s death causes the pair to split, with Sarah deciding that she can no longer live with Macon as he has not helped her in her grief. He decides to become more organised in his house. He is going to London to write his next guide-book and leaves his dog with Muriel Pritchett who is a dog handler.

When he returns home he falls down the stairs and breaks his leg. Needing care, he moves in with his family, his sister, Rose, and his two brothers. He is happy there as everything is organised, Rose looks after him and he has no contact with the outside world as the family, as part of its many eccentricities, never answers the phone. When his dog starts misbehaving, he hires Muriel Pritchett to train him. However, Muriel is too harsh and he asks her not to come back. However, after going to New York he gets back in touch with Muriel and they start an affair. He moves in with her and her young son though he admits that he does not love her. When Rose marries Julian, his publisher, he sees Sarah at the wedding and the old feelings are rekindled and he moves back in with Sarah. However, things are no better than they were. On a trip to Paris, he finds that Muriel is following him. When he hurts his back, Sarah comes to Paris to look after him but finds out that Muriel is staying in the same hotel.

Macon is the Inept American. He does not like things foreign and when he goes abroad he wants to find America there and if he cannot, he is going to look for it. But he is the same in his relationships. Sarah criticises him for being too locked up and too rigid in his ways though, when we meet his peculiar family, we understand why. Tyler tells a funny story, not without its own pathos, but one which shows her skill at mining the eccentricities of the United States.

Publishing history

First published 1985 by Knopf