The Accidental Tourist (1985)

by Anne Tyler

Macon Leary writes guides for business travelers who dislike travel as much as he does, advising them where to sleep and eat that’ll feel like home. He believes that life can be arranged to avoid messiness and disorder. Yet the ultimate disorder happened: his 12-year-old son is shot to death at a fast-food restaurant.

The Accidental Tourist begins about a year after the tragedy. Macon’s wife, Sarah, announces she needs to escape and is leaving him. Macon breaks his leg and while convalescing moves back into the family homestead where his unmarried sister cares for Macon’s two brothers, whose marriages also dissolved under their eccentricity.

Then Muriel Pritchett enters Macon’s life when he needs a trainer for his ill-behaved dog. Muriel lacks Sarah’s classiness; she talks incessantly, dresses bizarrely, and acts impulsively. Macon is put off by her at first but then drawn in by fascination with her example of another way to live. Muriel is messy, flaky, and pushy—and also resilient, optimistic, and quirkily charming. Macon realizes that when he’s with her he’s different and likes “the surprise of her, and the surprise of himself.” Gradually he becomes attached to Muriel and her sickly seven-year-old son and moves in with them. But then Sarah wants to give their marriage another try, and Macon has a difficult choice to make.

With its focus on day-to-day domesticity and its eccentric characters, The Accidental Tourist is typical Tyler and one of the best loved of her many novels. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1985.


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