Our novel for today keeps us in New England, but moves a little south. Baltimore is frequently the setting of the novels of Anne Tyler, and she makes no exception for The Accidental Tourist.
Macon Leary is middle-aged, married, coping with the loss of his son, who was murdered previous to the start of the novel, and working as a writer of travel guides for the businessmen who want to feel as if they never left home. His wife, Sarah, has become a shell of her former self and leaves Macon because she believes their relationship is beyond repair. Macon creates elaborate routines to cope with is loneliness, a carry-over from his childhood, and seeks solace in the familiar presence of his sister and two brothers. Macon’s life begins to change after he meets Muriel, a dog trainer, when boarding his suddenly aggressive dog.
Anne Tyler is known for creating quirky families, and Macon’s family is no exception. He and his siblings feel an intense need to organize and keep every part of their lives orderly and efficient. I believe that these coping mechanisms are carried over from their childhood. The Leary children were often left alone as their widowed mother went out on the town with men and left her children to fend for themselves.
The Accidental Tourist contains several serious themes, but it also has a great deal of humor. Macon’s systems of efficiency, while heartrending when you consider his motives, are terribly funny as he arranges them. The idea of washing your clothes in your bathtub while you shower is disgusting to me, yet I laughed as I cringed. Macon’s siblings also provide comedy for the reader. Their inability to read maps or understand simple driving directions is so odd when compared with their need for organization and efficiency that I couldn’t help but chuckle.
The Accidental Tourist was not my favorite novel. I had difficulty identifying with Macon, and that made the reading almost tedious. I’ve read one other novel by Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (that one gets a big thumbs up), which I preferred. The Accidental Tourist does not necessarily have an original plot when compared with her other novels. Noah’s Compass and Morgan’s Passing have been said to contain similar themes and plot devices. One young woman who read Morgan’s Passing told me that she kept forgetting she wasn’t reading The Accidental Tourist again because the two are so similar.
The Accidental Tourist is not at the top of my recommendation list. I thought it was okay, but Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is the novel that makes me want to read more of her works. I would recommend that first.