Meet Macon Leary--a travel writer who hates both travel and strangeness. Grounded by loneliness, comfort, and a somewhat odd domestic life, Macon is about to embark on a surprising new adventure, arriving in the form of a fuzzy-haired dog obedience trainer who promises to turn his life around.
A story about a couple who separate a year after their only son was murdered. They are of course both grieving but in their own way and they drift apart.
The main character is the husband, Macon Leary, who retracts into his own little world and shuts everything out. As a big metaphor is his job as a writer of travelling books to business men to make their stay abroad as comfortable as possible - just as they never left home. Leary is in many ways preditable, dry, with no sense of adventure. And the wife resents him.
But onto the scene steps twenty something Muriel Pritchett, an eccentric, lively character that seem the opposite of Macon Leary - she tries to help him train his dog and before he knows it he is feeling more alive again - is it love? Is Leary ready for this? And what about the wife?
It’s a book that shifts between the tragic, sad and the witty and humorous. Anne Tyler creates some fascinating characters and also quite funny scenes.
If Tyler's other books are half as good as this one, I'll be happy.
This has become particularly toxic in Macon Leary, who has been driven to near immobility after his young son is murdered and he and his wife leaves him. Emblematic of his rut is his line of work--he writes and continually updates a line of books called the "Accidental Tourist" whose covers sport an armchair with wings. The idea is to tell an American where he can find that McDonald's in London or Burger King in Paris, the most Americanized of hotels, so a business traveler can surround himself in a little bubble of home where nothing foreign can reach him. Even at home Macon invents systems to use up the least energy, to keep everything at equilibrium.
Then after his wife leaves him he meets Jill of All Trades Muriel--and she blows up his tidy little life. Where Macon has one line of work Muriel seemingly has dozens--running errands, care-taking, and above all, training dogs--which is how she gets to know Macon, and his corgi, Edward, is one of the most memorable characters in the book. I like that she's not romanticized or glamorized. Muriel is very real and very flawed. Muriel is flaky, temperamental, impulsive, superstition, no intellectual, a bit trashy, and around twenty years younger.
Of the three novels I've read this is definitely the most romantic, and the one that's the most hopeful that people can change--and that change can be good. It's funny and warm and unforgettable.
Edward spurs Macon's first crisis as a single man. To embark on a business trip, Macon must board Edward. His sister and two brothers won't take him because he's snappish and undisciplined. The familiar kennel rejects Edward because he bit someone on his last stay. At a new kennel, Macon's confronted by an overly friendly, almost bumptious young woman who takes Edward in, but further asserts she can train Edward in nothing flat. Not content to leave it at that, Muriel, for that's her name, calls Macon at home to promote her dog-training services, but also to try to get to know him, to ingratiate herself. Trolling for friendship.
The story progresses at a methodical pace (too slow for some, I know); it moves at Macon's pace. He is patient, calm, loath to conform to convention. Ultimately we see that marriage isn't the theme, but Macon's passivity, his inability to decide the direction of his own life.
He reflected that he had not taken steps very often in his life, come to think of it. Really never. His marriage, his two jobs, his time with Muriel…all seemed to have simply befallen him. He couldn't think of a single major act he had managed of his own accord.
Was it too late now to begin?
Was there any way he could learn to do things differently?
As his life befalls him, we meet Macon's two older brothers, Porter and Charles, and his sister Rose, all of whom live in the house left them when their grandfather died. We meet his boss, Julian, who is cheerful and supportive; he keeps after Macon, not allowing him to stall. All are quirky, irritating, funny, and maddening. Tyler sets out the "logic" behind individual quirks, gives voice to plans and dreams, bickering and harmony. If you have an eye for details, an ear for authentic dialog, and a little bit of patience, you'll enjoy [The Accidental Tourist]. I did.
He meets up with an unpredictable dog trainer his family has forced him to take his more-crazed-by-the-day pooch to and is fascinated by both her and his attraction to her. He goes happily along with her lifestyle for a while, marveling at the person he could be if he took more risks. But as the book comes to an end his wife decides, on the eve of their divorce, that she still wants to be with him. Familiarity and spontaneity take the form of these two women he must choose between.
It’s never a surprise that a Tyler novel is going to take place in Baltimore and be about family relationships. What has been surprising in the three novels I have read by her is that her stories unassumingly become powerful. And while the first two books of hers I read, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Breathing Lessons, were slyly funny, Tourist was often laugh-out loud funny. I would say that this was the best of the three.
I'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.
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.
Some fifteen years after last reading what is without doubt my favourite of Anne Tyler's novels, it was a joy to return to it as a buddy read with my friend Jemidar. If anything, I loved the novel even more than I did when I read and loved it all those years ago. I'm quite sure that I'll read it again.
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.
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.