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  • Written by Anne Tyler
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  • The Accidental Tourist
  • Written by Anne Tyler
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A Novel

Written by Anne TylerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Anne Tyler

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 352 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41683-4
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

“POIGNANT . . . FUNNY . . . THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST IS ONE OF HER BEST. . . . [TYLER] HAS NEVER BEEN STRONGER.”
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


“A DELIGHT . . . A GRACEFUL COMIC NOVEL ABOUT GETTING THROUGH LIFE.”
The Wall Street Journal

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.
Anne Tyler|Author Q&A

About Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler - The Accidental Tourist
ANNE TYLER was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her twentieth novel; 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.

Author 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.

Praise

Praise

“INDISPUTABLY HER BEST BOOK . . .
It leaves one aching with pleasure and pain.”
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
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Would you characterize yourself as an accidental tourist in your
own life? Do you know anyone you might consider an accidental
tourist?

2. What kind of traveler are you? Would you find Macon's guides
helpful?

3. Macon has come up with a technique to avoid contact with others
on airplanes. Public transportation can lead to an awkward intimacy
with strangers. How do you handle such situations? Does
Macon's approach work for you?

4. There was no memorial service for Ethan in Baltimore. Whose
idea do you think that was? Do you agree with Garner, Macon's
neighbor, who chastises him for not having one?

5. Macon's style of mourning offends many people, including his
wife. Do their complaints have any merit?

6. According to Macon, "it was their immunity to time that made the
dead so heartbreaking." Discuss the meaning of this statement.

7. What is the significance of Macon and Susan's conversation about
Ethan? What do they each gain from it?

8. Why doesn't Macon repair his house after it is seriously damaged
by water?

9. The loss of a child can be devastating to a marriage. How do you
think a relationship survives such a cataclysmic event?

10. Macon believes he became a different person for Sarah. How
much do we change in the name of love? How much should we
change?

11. Do you think Sarah ever really understood Macon?

12. Macon realizes that while he and Sarah tried too hard to have a
child, once they had Ethan, it made their differences that much
more glaring. Do you think they would have remained together if
Ethan had lived?

13. Macon remarks that "he just didn't want to get involved" with
Muriel and her messy life, but somehow he has. Does this ring
true? Did Muriel simply overwhelm him?

14. Initially, Macon and Alexander are very wary of each other. Discuss
the nature of Macon and Alexander's relationship and what
they have to offer each other.

15. Rose decides to love Julian despite her brothers' obvious disapproval.
What do you think drives her to make such a difficult
decision?

16. Julian describes Rose's retreat back to the Leary house as though
she'd worn herself a groove or something in that house of hers,
and she couldn't help swerving back into it. Do you think Rose
has made a mistake?

17. Do you find yourself as fascinated by the Learys as Julian is? Why
or why not?

18. When Rose declares that she and her siblings are the most conventional
people she knows, Macon cannot explain why he disagrees
with her. Can you?

19. Do you think the Learys' will ever purchase an answering
machine? Do you think Julian might slip one in the house?

20. Do you or does anyone you know suffer from geographic
dyslexia?

21. Why does Sarah return to Macon? Do you think they could have
worked it out or had they used each other up?

22. Macon does not think he has ever taken steps in his life and acted.
Do you think this insight is accurate, or is it a product of the helplessness
he feels in the wake of his son's death?

23. Do you think Macon has made the right decision in the end? Will
the relationship work out?

24. Do you think any of the couples in this novel stand a chance?

25. In the end, Macon comforts himself with the thought that perhaps
the dead age, and are part of the flow of time. Does this idea comfort
you?

26. If you could learn more about a particular character in this novel,
which would it be and why?

27. Would your group recommend this novel to other reading
groups? How does this novel compare to other works the group
has read?


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