Sunday, February 20, 2011

A travel writer who hates traveling

I may not have traveled much, but with the few places I've been to, I made sure to see all the sights, sample the good food, and get to know the wonderful people of these places I've visited. This is a far cry from the main character of Anne Tyler's beloved novel, The Accidental Tourist.

In the novel, we meet Macon Leary, a travel writer whose specialization is to focus on as little as possible about the esoteric, the foreign. He gives practical advice to businessmen on a trip -- the location of the Burger King in Paris, the colors to wear during trips (gray, never white), and the right way to keep foreign currency (with a specific currency in each small envelope). Needless to say, he hates traveling.

At the beginning of The Accidental Tourist, Macon's wife Sarah is leaving him and wants a divorce. She's had enough of his obsessive-compulsive behavior, the lack of spontaneity, and the loneliness that seems to pervade the couple. Macon and Sarah has lost their one and only child in a bizaare murder incident. Macon naturally goes into a slump, causing him to get behind on his manuscripts for his travel guides entitled The Accidental Tourist. (There's an Accidental Tourist in Paris, an Accidental Tourist in New York, etc.)

After a frantic conversation with the owner of a publishing house who's been needling him on the deadlines, Macon books a flight to the next stop in The Accidental Tourist series. But there's one problem -- he has to find a vet who he can leave his dog with. He finds one at the last minute, and this is where he meets an eccentric dog trainer named Muriel. After his trip and while temporarily shacking up with his siblings, Macon receives several calls from Muriel, asking him to let her train the dog and, surprise surprise, to go out with her. What follows is an unconventional love story between two persons who are way too different from each other.

Yes, at its heart, The Accidental Tourist is a love story. But it isn't a sappy one. The romantic angle doesn't become realized until halfway through the novel. The story about two mismatched persons who fall in love with each other may not be original, but Tyler managed to pull it off. Macon is never the hopelessly clueless character that we might expect. Muriel's fish-out-of-water personality never goes overboard.

Tyler even writes a bravura ending. Just when we thought that Macon may have the wish to go back to his wife, who now seems accepting of his shortcomings and quirks, Tyler has written an ending that is pleasantly rewarding, something that makes you feel that her characters are totally human.

I'm not big on love stories. Most of them make me feel nauseous with their cardboard-cutout characters. As a novel, The Accidental Tourist, may feel like a breezy read, but its message certainly packs a punch. Most people say that this is also Anne Tyler's best work. I wouldn't know of course, since this is my first Tyler read. But I certainly would now be open to reading her other novels.

Read this book if:
  1. You've always wondered how travel guides are written.
  2. You're longing for an unconventional love story.
  3. You know that opposites do attract.


Book Bird Dog said...

You might like some of the armchair travel books I've read this past week!

Books, poems, and Japanese

martine said...

Hi. I love everything I have read by Anne Tyler, I had a bit of a phase on her a few years ago. Not read this one, though I have seen the film, it sounds excellent.
thanks for sharing

Peter S. said...

@Book Bird Dog: Yay! Thanks for the link!

@Martine: You're welcome! Now I have to get to the bookstore and read some more of Tyler's works!

Stepford Mum said...

I've been wanting to read this for a while, Peter! In fact, I was supposed to mooch it from Gege two years ago but she couldn't find her copy. Will make sure to find one then :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Stepford Mum! It's hugely enjoyable!

Reymos said...

I found out that novel is also turned to film in 1985 with the same title. I havent watched it or read the novel itself. I might grab this one. By the way, thanks for the interest following my blog as well. Best regards. Rey

Peter S. said...

Hello, Rey! You have an interesting blog! Yes, this was turned into a movie several years back. It was also the movie that gave Geena Davis her Oscar!

Thomas at My Porch said...

I read this one around 1991 and the only thing I remember about it is that I liked it and that I did not like the movie version.

Peter S. said...

Hmmmm... Your comment made me want to find a copy of the movie, Thomas. I'm getting curious...

AJ said...

This movie inspired me to put up a travel blog called The Transcendental Tourist. Obviously, I took liberties with the title, haha!

This is one movie that gets better after every viewing. And the performances are first-rate!

Lynai said...

I am constantly on the hunt for this book. I've read 2 Anne Tylers -- Breathing Lessons and Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant -- and I loved them both.

Love this review! :)