Excerpted from The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. Copyright © 2002 by Anne Tyler. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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
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
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.
Q: Will Rose and Julian's relationship survive the transplant to the
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.
1. Would you characterize yourself as an accidental tourist in your
own life? Do you know anyone you might consider an accidental
2. What kind of traveler are you? Would you find Macon's guides
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
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
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
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
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
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