The Accidental Tourist: A Novel

by Anne Tyler

Paperback, 2002

Call number





Ballantine Books (2002), Edition: Reprint, 352 pages


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ctpress
“I'm beginning to think that maybe it's not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you're with them.”

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.
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LibraryThing member whirled
Oh Anne Tyler, where have you been all my life? In her best-known novel, newly separated travel writer Macon Leary's need for order is challenged when he hires shambolic trainer Muriel Pritchett to bring his errant dog into line. By turns poignant and laugh-aloud funny, The Accidental Tourist is a wonderfully entertaining meditation on the twists of fate that make us who we are.

If Tyler's other books are half as good as this one, I'll be happy.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This novel is part of a Tyler omnibus gifted me by a friend. I liked Breathing Lessons, and didn't care for Searching for Caleb. Leaving The Accidental Tourist for last, I find the third time's the charm. All three books are well-written--Tyler is obviously a gifted, and consistently good writer. All three have similar themes--particularly the tension between staying stuck and chaotic change. You can see this with the Leary family. They're life with their mother was chaotic and as a result the four children in the family dug in--creating their own rituals and sticking close together and resisting change.

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.
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LibraryThing member weird_O
On the surface, [The Accidental Tourist] is about a marriage damaged by a child's murder. The parents are devastated. They carry on, going through the motions of life as in a fog, barely communicating with each other or anyone else. The husband and father, Macon Leary, struggles to get on with his work of researching, updating, and revising a line of guidebooks, called "The Accidental Tourist," for business travelers. Months after the murder, but in the opening pages of this novel, Sarah Leary, wife and mother, tells Macon she is moving out of their small house into an apartment. Macon is left with the house, the cat and Edward the dog.

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.
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
It has been years since I first read this book, and I actually enjoyed it more the second time around. I like everything Anne Tyler has written, and was once again struck by her nearly perfect writing: the descriptions of characters that are so spot-on and yet so unique. As in most of her books, it is less about what happens than about how people grow and change and figure out their lives. I found myself laughing out loud and then my eyes filled with tears when I turned the page, experiencing this story of a quirky man, his oddball friends and family, and his hopeless attempts to outrun heartbreak. Wonderful. If you like a plot-driven novel, if you prefer to know what happens rather than why, or if you are bored by investigating a fictional character deeply, it won’t be a book for you. But never underestimate Anne Tyler; she is a master of what she does, and her stories are neither shallow nor easily dismissed.… (more)
LibraryThing member mhgatti
For those of you who have not read the novel or seen the movie yet, Tourist is about Macon Leary, a Baltimore travel writer who hates to travel. He moves through life in a way that avoids any variations to his comfortable routine. This, along with the trauma from the killing of his young son, causes his wife to leave him. After breaking his leg Macon gladly moves in with his equally strange and change-fearing siblings.

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.
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LibraryThing member EmScape
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.
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LibraryThing member TanyaTomato
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.
LibraryThing member magst
I have read all of Anne Tyler's books yes this one remains my favorite! Anne Tyler lovingly describe the oddities in a character's personality so well. The jump off the page and help me to put my life in perspective. I always feel so peaceful after reading one of her stories.
LibraryThing member dee_kohler
Not all that crazy about Ann Tyler's quirky characters when I read this - had to grow into tyler
LibraryThing member DowntownLibrarian
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.
LibraryThing member wordygirl39
Still Anne Tyler's best work after all these years and all those books. This one was finely crafted from first word to last and is a great example of what modern fiction ought to be and do for readers.
LibraryThing member samfsmith
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member kerinlo
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.
LibraryThing member Liciasings
What a clever writer (This is the first book I've read by her.) Insightful, thought-provoking look at characters, in their messy, growing lives. Not a lot of action, change happens gradually, slowly, reading-between-the lines. Tyler writes such good descriptions, and lets you see through the eyes of a character learning to keep living with grief. Learning to interact with the world around him. Learning to love and to care and to trust. Powerful writing.… (more)
LibraryThing member Miro
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.
LibraryThing member Sengels
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.
LibraryThing member KimMR
This is a warm, wise, funny, heart-breaking and ultimately life-affirming book. In Macon Leary, the man who writes travel books for people who hate to travel, Tyler has created an amazing character. His damaged psyche, his vulnerability, the gradual changes in his character and outlook as he starts to connect with the messiness of living leap off the page. This book makes me laugh out loud one moment and brings tears to my eyes the next. Although Macon is the centre of the novel, the supporting characters are also wonderful creations. There's Muriel - vulnerable and needy, but alive and connected to others. There's Macon's fabulously eccentric siblings, his boss Julian, his wife Sarah and even his dog Edward - each of them real and memorable.

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.
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LibraryThing member kglavin
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member CatheOlson
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member nocto
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.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I read this because it won the National Book Critics Circle fiction award in 1985. It is the 26th such winner I have read. (There 11 fiction winners I have not read.) This is also the ninth Tyler novel I have read, and this is probably as good as any of hers I have read. Macon Leary writes travel guides . His son is killed and his wife leaves him. So he goes back to his sister and two brothers who live at his grandfather's old house. . The prose is fresh and sparkling and one can't help but be impressed by the weird things that the author has her characters do. The ending bothered me some, but I suppose few would be bothered thereby.… (more)
LibraryThing member Poprockz
This was the 1st Anee Tyler book I read. I also read Breathing Lessons later on.
LibraryThing member aleahmarie
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.
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LibraryThing member catalogthis
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.
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