The Accidental Tourist

A Novel
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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER 

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

In this irresistible novel, Anne Tyler explores the slippery alchemy of attracting opposites, and the struggle to rebuild one’s life after unspeakable tragedy. Travel writer Macon Leary hates travel, adventure, surprises, and anything outside of his routine.  Immobilized by grief, Macon is becoming increasingly prickly and alone, anchored by his solitude and an unwillingness to compromise his creature comforts. Then he meets Muriel, an eccentric dog trainer too optimistic to let Macon disappear into himself. Despite Macon’s best efforts to remain insulated, Muriel up-ends his solitary, systemized life, catapulting him into the center of a messy, beautiful love story he never imagined. A fresh and timeless tale of unexpected bliss, The Accidental Tourist showcases Tyler’s talents for making characters—and their relationships—feel both real and magical.

Look for Clock Dance, the charming new novel from Anne Tyler, available this July.

Praise

“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

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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 might have 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.

Q & A

A Conversation with Anne Tyler

Q: Can Macon be described as an accidental tourist in his own life?
Can we all?

AT: Certainly Macon can, but I wouldn't say that accidental tourism is
a universal condition. Some people seem to have very meticulous itineraries
for their lives.

Q: Ethan's tragic death looms over all of the characters in this novel.
Why are so many characters angry, at--or at least disapproving of--
Macon for his manner of grieving?

AT: Because to someone not very perceptive, Macon's manner of grieving
doesn't really look like grief.

Q: Is it simply inertia that prevents Macon from dealing with Edward's
misbehavior for so long? Why does he find the process of training
Edward to be so difficult and painful?

AT: While I was writing this book, I wondered the same thing. I asked
myself, Why do I seem to be going on and on about this ridiculous
dog, who has nothing to do with the main plot? Then when Muriel
asked Macon, "Do you want a dog who's angry all the time?" (or
words to that effect), I thought, Oh! Of course! That's exactly what he
wants! This dog is angry for him!

Q: Would you agree that Edward's reactions to Muriel mirror Macon's
to some degree?

AT: Oh, I think Edward is way ahead of Macon in his reactions.

Q: What does Singleton Street represent for Macon?

AT: Otherness. The opposite of his own narrow self.

Q: Macon, like many characters in this novel, feels trapped by other
people's perceptions of him. Does Muriel see Macon as he truly is, or
as someone he wants to be?

AT: Neither, really. She sees the person she herself wants him to be; but
since she's an accepting and non-judgmental type, who he really is
turns out to be all right with her.

Q: Macon's friends and family are mostly disapproving of "that
Muriel person." Is it simply a matter of class prejudice?

AT: Class for the most part; but also personality style. To a family so
undemonstrative, Muriel would be a bit daunting.

Q: If not for Muriel's persistence, would Macon have made a different
choice?

AT: Yes, certainly. Muriel is a pretty powerful force.

Q: In The Accidental Tourist, you write of Macon: "He began to think
that who you are when you're with somebody may matter more than
whether you love her." Ultimately, does Macon love Muriel?

AT: I think he really does.

Q: Macon remembers finding a magazine quiz in which Sarah
answered that she loved her spouse more than he loved her. How accurate
was her answer? Was Sarah correct in writing that she loved
Macon more than he loved her?

AT: Her answer reflected her limited understanding of Macon, I
believe, more than the true situation.

Q: Is Macon being honest when he tells Sarah that Muriel's young son
did not draw him to Muriel?

AT: I did mean that to be his honest answer. If anything, her son was a
negative quality--at least in the beginning.

Q: This novel explores the vexed nature of romantic relationships. Do
the couples that have formed over the course of this novel stand a
chance?

AT: Yes, of course they do. These are flawed relationships--as all
are--and they require compromise--as all do. But at least one member
of each couple has found a way to make those compromises.

Q: The Learys are at once remarkable comic figures and deeply human
characters. How difficult is it to achieve this delicate balance and neither
veer into parody nor a humorless character study?

AT: In early drafts, when I didn't know the Learys all that well, I did
veer over one or the other edge from time to time. But the most
rewarding experience in writing a novel is the gradually deepening
understanding of its characters; and once I knew the Learys better, the
balance came naturally.

Q: Is the Leary siblings' geographic dyslexia treatable?

AT: Speaking from personal experience, I would say absolutely not.
It's biological.

Q: Will Rose and Julian's relationship survive the transplant to the
Leary homestead?

AT: Yes, Julian will become a funny sort of quasi-Leary, purely out of
love for Rose, and a helpful liaison to the outside world.

Q: Is there any hope for Porter or Charles?

AT: Well, not much hope they'll truly change, of course. But they seem
contented as they are.

Q: Do you have the narrative fairly well mapped out before you begin
writing a novel, or do you find yourself taking detours? For instance,
did you know all along how this novel would end?

AT: I map my books out in a very cursory way--say, about a page for
each novel--and I always think I know how they'll end, but I'm
almost always wrong. In the case of The Accidental Tourist, I actually
began a chapter in which Macon stayed with Sarah. But it didn't
work; something in the characters themselves persuaded me the ending
would have to be different.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you?

AT: All the time.

Q: What do you most enjoy about your life as writer? And least?

AT: The best part about being a writer is the experience of learning,
gradually, what it is like to be a person completely different from me.
The hard part is that for years on end, I am working in a vacuum. Is
this a story anyone will believe? Anyone will care about? I won't know
that until I'm finished.

Q: If you could invite any writer, living or dead, to attend a reading
group meeting to discuss their work, who would it be? What would
you most like to learn from her or him?

A: I would rather read the writer, not hear him or her talk. I know that
from being a writer myself: what I have to say, I have already said
through my stories.

Q: What are you reading right now?

AT: Lately, I have fallen in love with Ann Patchett's Bel Canto. It's a
mesmerizing novel, moving, amusing, and enlightening. And I am
telling everyone to watch for Mary Lawson's Crow Lake, a soon-to-be-
published novel about a family of orphans in the northernmost
reaches of Canada.

Clock Dance

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