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The Accidental Tourist

The Accidental Tourist

3.7 43
by Anne Tyler

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The New York Times

Macon Leary is a travel writer who hates both travel and anything out of the ordinary. He is grounded by loneliness and an unwillingness to compromise his creature comforts when he


The New York Times

Macon Leary is a travel writer who hates both travel and anything out of the ordinary. He is grounded by loneliness and an unwillingness to compromise his creature comforts when he meets Muriel, a deliciously peculiar dog-obedience trainer who up-ends Macon’s insular world–and thrusts him headlong into a remarkable engagement with life.

“BITTERSWEET . . . EVOCATIVE . . . It’s easy to forget this is the warm lull of fiction; you half-expect to run into her characters at the dry cleaners . . . Tyler [is] a writer of great compassion.”
The Boston Globe

“Tyler has given us an endlessly diverting book whose strength gathers gradually to become a genuinely thrilling one.”
Los Angeles Times

The Wall Street Journal

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
Indisputably her best book.
From the Publisher
“Poignant . . . funny . . . The Accidental Tourist is one of her best. . . . [Tyler] has never been stronger.”The New York Times

“Bittersweet . . . evocative . . . It’s easy to forget this is the warm lull of fiction; you half-expect to run into her characters at the dry cleaners. . . . Tyler [is] a writer of great compassion.”The Boston Globe

“Tyler has given us an endlessly diverting book whose strength gathers gradually to become a genuinely thrilling one.”Los Angeles Times

“A delight . . . a graceful comic novel about getting through life.”The Wall Street Journal

“A rarely equaled richness and depth . . . Delicious humor . . . Without Anne Tyler, American fiction would be an immeasurably bleaker place.”—Newday

“Incandescent, heartbreaking, exhilarating . . . One cannot reasonably expect fiction to be much better than this."The Washington Post

“Hilarious . . . and touching . . . Anne Tyler is a wise and perceptive writer with a warm understanding of human foibles.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Comic . . . Sweetly perverse . . . A novel animated by witty invention and lively personalities.”Time

“Anne Tyler [is] covering common ground with uncommon insight. . . . Convincingly real.”People

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
4.40(w) x 6.84(h) x 0.99(d)

Read an Excerpt

They were supposed to stay at the beach a week, but neither of them had the heart for it and they decided to come back early. Macon drove. Sarah sat next to him, leaning her head against the side window. Chips of cloudy sky showed through her tangled brown curls.

Macon wore a formal summer suit, his traveling suit—much more logical for traveling than jeans, he always said. Jeans had those stiff, hard seams and those rivets. Sarah wore a strapless terry beach dress. They might have been returning from two entirely different trips. Sarah had a tan but Macon didn’t. He was a tall, pale, gray-eyed man, with straight fair hair cut close to his head, and his skin was that thin kind that easily burns. He’d kept away from the sun during the middle part of every day.

Just past the start of the divided highway, the sky grew almost black and several enormous drops spattered the windshield. Sarah sat up straight. “Let’s hope it doesn’t rain,” she said.

“I don’t mind a little rain,” Macon said.

Sarah sat back again, but she kept her eyes on the road.

It was a Thursday morning. There wasn’t much traffic. They passed a pickup truck, then a van all covered with stickers from a hundred scenic attractions. The drops on the windshield grew closer together. Macon switched his wipers on. Tick-swoosh, they went—a lulling sound; and there was a gentle patter on the roof. Every now and then a gust of wind blew up. Rain flattened the long, pale grass at the sides of the road. It slanted across the boat lots, lumberyards, and discount furniture outlets, which already had a darkened look as if here it mighthave been raining for some time.

“Can you see all right?” Sarah asked.

“Of course,” Macon said. “This is nothing.”

They arrived behind a trailer truck whose rear wheels sent out arcs of spray. Macon swung to the left and passed. There was a moment of watery blindness till the truck had dropped behind. Sarah gripped the dashboard with one hand.

“I don’t know how you can see to drive,” she said.

“Maybe you should put on your glasses.”

“Putting on my glasses would help you to see?”

“Not me; you,” Macon said. “You’re focused on the windshield instead of the road.”

Sarah continued to grip the dashboard. She had a broad, smooth face that gave an impression of calm, but if you looked closely you’d notice the tension at the corners of her eyes.

The car drew in around them like a room. Their breaths fogged the windows. Earlier the air conditioner had been running and now some artificial chill remained, quickly turning dank, carrying with it the smell of mildew. They shot through an underpass. The rain stopped completely for one blank, startling second. Sarah gave a little gasp of relief, but even before it was uttered, the hammering on the roof resumed. She turned and gazed back longingly at the underpass. Macon sped ahead, with his hands relaxed on the wheel.

“Did you notice that boy with the motorcycle?” Sarah asked. She had to raise her voice; a steady, insistent roaring sound engulfed them.

“What boy?”

“He was parked beneath the underpass.”

“It’s crazy to ride a motorcycle on a day like today,” Macon said. “Crazy to ride one any day. You’re so exposed to the elements.”

“We could do that,” Sarah said. “Stop and wait it out.”

“Sarah, if I felt we were in the slightest danger I’d have pulled over long ago.”

“Well, I don’t know that you would have,” Sarah said.

They passed a field where the rain seemed to fall in sheets, layers and layers of rain beating down the cornstalks, flooding the rutted soil. Great lashings of water flung themselves at the windshield. Macon switched his wiper blades to high.

“I don’t know that you really care that much,” Sarah said. “Do you?”

Macon said, “Care?”

“I said to you the other day, I said, ‘Macon, now that Ethan’s dead I sometimes wonder if there’s any point to life.’ Do you remember what you answered?”

“Well, not offhand,” Macon said.

“You said, ‘Honey, to tell the truth, it never seemed to me there was all that much point to begin with.’ Those were your exact words.”

“Um . . .”

“And you don’t even know what was wrong with that.”

“No, I guess I don’t,” Macon said.

He passed a line of cars that had parked at the side of the road, their windows opaque, their gleaming surfaces bouncing back the rain in shallow explosions. One car was slightly tipped, as if about to fall into the muddy torrent that churned and raced in the gully. Macon kept a steady speed.

“You’re not a comfort, Macon,” Sarah said.

“Honey, I’m trying to be.”

“You just go on your same old way like before. Your little routines and rituals, depressing habits, day after day. No comfort at all.”

“Shouldn’t I need comfort too?” Macon asked. “You’re not the only one, Sarah. I don’t know why you feel it’s your loss alone.”

“Well, I just do, sometimes,” Sarah said.

They were quiet a moment. A wide lake, it seemed, in the center of the highway crashed against the underside of the car and slammed it to the right. Macon pumped his brakes and drove on.

“This rain, for instance,” Sarah said. “You know it makes me nervous. What harm would it do to wait it out? You’d be showing some concern. You’d be telling me we’re in this together.”

Macon peered through the windshield, which was streaming so that it seemed marbled. He said, “I’ve got a system, Sarah. You know I drive according to a system.”

“You and your systems!”

“Also,” he said, “if you don’t see any point to life, I can’t figure why a rainstorm would make you nervous.”

Sarah slumped in her seat.

“Will you look at that!” he said. “A mobile home’s washed clear across that trailer park.”

“Macon, I want a divorce,” Sarah told him.

Macon braked and glanced over at her. “What?” he said. The car swerved. He had to face forward again. “What did I say?” he asked. “What did it mean?”

“I just can’t live with you anymore,” Sarah said.

Macon went on watching the road, but his nose seemed sharper and whiter, as if the skin of his face had been pulled tight. He cleared his throat. He said, “Honey. Listen. It’s been a hard year. We’ve had a hard time. People who lose a child often feel this way; everybody says so; everybody says it’s a terrible strain on a marriage—”

“I’d like to find a place of my own as soon as we get back,” Sarah told him.

“Place of your own,” Macon echoed, but he spoke so softly, and the rain beat so loudly on the roof, it looked as if he were only moving his lips. “Well,” he said. “All right. If that’s what you really want.”

“You can keep the house,” Sarah said. “You never did like moving.”

For some reason, it was this that made her finally break down. She turned away sharply. Macon switched his right blinker on. He pulled into a Texaco station, parked beneath the overhang, and cut off the engine. Then he started rubbing his knees with his palms. Sarah huddled in her corner. The only sound was the drumming of rain on the overhang far above them.

Copyright 2002 by Anne Tyler

What People are Saying About This

John Updike
Tyler is not merely good, she is wickedly good.

Meet the Author

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the author of over twenty novels; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Brief Biography

Baltimore, Maryland
Date of Birth:
October 25, 1941
Place of Birth:
Minneapolis, Minnesota
B.A., Duke University, 1961

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The Accidental Tourist 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
MacPoster More than 1 year ago
I read this about 20 years ago and recall it as a powerful, insightful book. Just over a year ago I lost a son, and so this year I decided to plunge back in, expecting comfort, connection via fiction, a new way of coming to understanding. Instead I found myself saying over and over again to myself, "Sorry Ms. Tyler, you missed that too." The plot seems forced, the love affair between the mourning father and his new girlfriend cliche, and the ending too easy and predictable. More than that, sorry, but as an act of imagination, it simply doesn't get close to the confusion and pain of this kind of grief, at least for me. As ever with Tyler's writing, though, it is well-crafted. But the humaneness and wisdom I once thought this book contained turns out, now that I've experienced something like what she tries to convey, as shallow and failed empathy. The characters and emotions became to me, in the end, contrivances, not real, and given the subject matter she was attempting too confront, not true enough by half.
adamgn More than 1 year ago
I had high hopes for this book, but it did not meet them. As I read, I kept thinking it would get better; that something would earn my interest -- it never did. To me it felt like Tyler couldn't decide whether to write her characters as caricatures or purely boring beings. So in the end, it felt like an awful mixture of people who made no sense whatsoever. The worst was that the characters would suddenly have wonderful insights into life (i.e., when Macon felt Muriel's cesarian scar), which made no sense since no one in the book seemed to be functioning on any rationally thinking level at any other moment in the book. Ultimately, the characters were so poorly written that I couldn't even gain interest in the story, which had a lot of potential in my opinion. It felt like a poor-man's version of Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, which is remarkably better on all fronts. Perhaps I shouldn't compare because they are slightly different, but that was all I could think about the entire time I read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book for my English class this year, and it has stuck with me ever since. Anne Tyler's characters are well-developed and quirky, and the plot is very moving. This book definitely made me stop and thing about my own life and how I'm choosing to live it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Macon is someone that I could never like in real life. He is boring, stodgy, and does not engage in the world around him. He better stick with Muriel since she is his only chance of leaving his grey sweats behind. It was hard to get through this book.
lilacqueen75 21 days ago
Macon and his brothers and sister are such a peculiar family--very rooted in their traditions and habits, yet Macon's life begins to change when his wife decides to leave him. Macon is a character who is very precise and a creature of habit. He seems to be a homebody and craves control, especially when he feels he has none. For a man who hates to travel, his job demands it. He writes small guidebooks for businessmen to use on trips--where to get the best meal, the best hotel, the best little comforts at home, while in a new city. His loneliness and out-of-control dog almost force him to strike up a friendship with eccentric Muriel, who claims she can teach his dog new tricks. Her unconventional personality is so opposite of Macon and before he knows it, he's living life in a completely new way. I love the message that it's never too late to start living life and doing so in the here-and-now. When his life takes an unexpected twist, Macon is forced to evaluate who he really is, who he has become, and who he wants to be...what does he really want out of life and how is he going to live it? The self-introspection is almost as entertaining as the process of growth that Macon endures. The characters and situations had me engaged and laughing, as I tried to picture what could possibly happen next. The characters are so quirky and unique--in actions, personality, and in words. This is an enjoyable read with a quaint writing style. Content: I am traditional in my values and wasn't too happy that Macon was so "quick" to strike up a "friendship" with Muriel, while technically still married to Sarah (implied intimacy; innuendo--technically clean). There's also a smattering of some mild-moderate language.
Anonymous 4 months ago
This tragic yet warm story had everything including a dog, romance, and quirkiness.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Was not what I expected, will rethink any other books by this author
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
Macon and Sarah Leary have been married for 20 years when tragedy strikes them. Being such different people doesn't serve them well during the grieving process. Neither can be what the other needs during their time of need. While driving home in the rain, Sarah asks Macon to pull over because of her rising anxiety over driving in the torrential rain. When he refuses, she asks for a divorce. Macon is at a loss. He thought they were trucking along as best as they could considering their son was just brutally murdered. *All this is revealed chapter 1 so it's not really a spoiler* What follows is Macon's journey of discovery. He's a travel writer who caters to the traveler that wants to know where the American hotels and McDonald's are when they travel to Timbuktu. Wait, his reader would never travel to Timbuktu - to Prague, then. He revels in the comforts of routine and consistency. He is a passive man who allows life to happen to him. He was an obedient child, grew up into a steady man, married the first girl he was ever with and takes comfort in having an orderly life. All this is destroyed when Sarah leaves him. He must learn who to be without her defining him. Enter Muriel - headstrong and lively, Muriel. She tenaciously pursues him and teaches him to step outside himself - to consider something other than everything he's ever done and known. In the end, Macon must do something he's never done before - make a choice. Frankly, I think he made the wrong choice, but hey, that's what happens when you're not used to making choices.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dashford More than 1 year ago
Although I did enjoy the book, I most likely would not have read it if I had known it was a "sit around and discuss the implications/impact it had" kind of book. I mostly like to read for entertainment and this is more of a sit and think about it kind of book. Great if you like that kind of read.
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