Title: The Accidental Tourist
Author: Anny Tyler
Finished: September 27, 2018
Anne Tyler is the real meal deal. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons and was a runner up with this novel – losing to “Lonesome Dove”. She was also a runner up with “Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant”; losing to The “Color Purple.” It took two legendary novels to keep her off the winners podium.
I read this novel after finishing her “Clock Dance” and was struck by the similarities in the two stories. In both the protagonists are drifting through life following a traumatic death. They are then jolted into the current world and are eventually faced with the decision to go back to their old life or move on with the new.
As the story opens Macon and his wife Sarah are returning from a vacation a couple of years after their son died. “They might have been returning from two entirely different trips.” [p 1]. Sarah is exasperated by the ultra-organized Macon and decides to leave him. Sarah doesn’t want to get caught up in Macon’s way of life. “You’re so quick to be sensible, Macon, that you’ve given up on just about everything.” [p 161]
And she is right, Macon organizes everything in an attempt to get some space between himself and his life.
In some odd way, he was locked inside the standoffish self he’d assumed when he and she first met. He was frozen there. It was like that old warning of his grandmother’s: Don’t cross your eyes, they might get stuck that way.” [p 59]
In “Clock Dance” Willa is jolted from her life by the shooting of one of her sons’ ex-girlfriends. Here, Macon breaks his leg which leads him to getting help training his dog. Interestingly, Daisy in “Clock Dance” has a leg injury that precipitates the central change. The hobbled legs are symbols of the inability to move forward.
In this case, Macon is caught up in the hurricane that is Muriel who takes on the job of training Macon’s dog. She is everything that Macon is not; the relationship puts Macon on a different course:
Then he knew that what mattered was the pattern of her life; that although he did not love her he loved the surprise of her, and also the surprise of himself when he was with her. [p 242]
The Macon at the beginning of the novel would never love the surprises that Muriel brings. Eventually, Sarah returns to Macon forcing him to make a choice – something he has spent his adult life avoiding.
He couldn’t think of a single major act he had managed of his own accord. Was it too late to begin? Was there any way he could learn to do things differently? [p 402]
That is Macon’s big question; is his fate due to entropy or purpose? Well, you’ll have to read it to find that out.
If you’ve read any of my other fiction book reports you know I’m a fan of similes – and this book has some gems.
- On his cast “The hardest blow felt like a knock on the wall from a neighboring room.” [p 68]
- “The urge to sleep was like a great black cannonball rolling around inside his skull, making his head heavy and droopy.” [p 72]
- “The sky was bright but flat, the color of oyster shells.” [p 304]
Finally, I found this passage – in a book written over 30 years ago – speaking to me about our current situation.
“It’s just free speech, that’s all we’ve got. We can say whatever we like, then the government goes on and does exactly what it pleases. You call that democracy? It’s like we’re on a ship, headed someplace terrible, and somebody else is steering and the passengers can’t jump off” [p 208]