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Accidental Tourist (Tyler)

The Accidental Tourist 
Anne Tyler, 1985
Random House
352pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307416834


Summary
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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—October 25, 1941
Where—Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Education—B.A., Duke University
Awards—Pulitzer Prize, 1989; National Book Critics Circle
  Award, 1986; PEN/Faulkner Award, 1983
Currently—lives in Baltimore, Maryland


Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis in 1941 but grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. This is Anne Tyler's tenth novel; she has written eighteen (as of 2010). Her eleventh book, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore. (From the publisher.)

More
Anne Tyler has had a very active imagination all her life. When she was a young girl, she would spend an hour or two after being put to bed every night fantasizing that she was a doctor. She imagined conversations with patients, and pictured their lives as she did so, considering both their illnesses and the intricacies of their backgrounds. She constructed little mental plays around these characters that she would whisper to herself in the dark—much to the chagrin of her brother, with whom she shared a room. "[H]e used to call out to our parents, 'Anne's whispering again!'" she once told Barnes & Noble.com. As much as she may have vexed her brother, she also believes that these fantasies helped her to develop into the beloved, award-winning novelist she is today.

Tyler's work is characterized by a meticulous attention to detail, a genuine love of her characters, and a quirky sense of humor. Her public persona is characterized by its own quirks, as well. She refuses to grant face-to-face interviews. She has never publicly read from any of her books. She does not do book signings or tours. All of this has lent a certain mystique to her novels, although Tyler has said that her reluctance to become a public figure status is actually the result of simple shyness, not to mention her desire for her writing to speak for itself. Fortunately, Anne Tyler's work speaks with a clear, fully-realized voice that does not require unnecessary elucidation by the writer.

Tyler published her first novel If Morning Ever Comes in 1964, and that singular voice was already in place. This astute debut that tracks the self-realization of a young man named Ben Joe Hawkins displayed Tyler's characteristic wit and gentle eccentricity right off the bat. Harper's declared the novel "a triumph," and Tyler was on her way to creating an impressive catalog of novels chronicling the every day hopes, fears, dreams, failures, and victories of small-town Americans. Having come of age, herself, in rural North Carolina, Tyler had particular insight into the lives of her characters. Each novel was a little shimmering gem, winning her a devoted following and public accolades that more than compensated for her refusal to appear in public. Her novel Earthly Possessions, the story of a housewife who is taken hostage by a young man during a bank robbery, was released the same year she won an award for "literary excellence and promise of important work to come" from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The book also went on to become a television movie starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff in 1999.

Fame
However, the most well-known adaptation of one of Tyler's novels arrived more than a decade earlier when The Accidental Tourist was made into an Academy Award winning film starring Geena Davis and William Hurt. Consequently, The Accidental Tourist is viewed by some as Tyler's signature novel, covering many of the writer's favorite themes: the push and pull of marriage, the appearance of a romantic eccentric, personal tragedy, and the quest to escape from the drudgery of routine. The Accidental Tourist won the National Book Critics Circle Award and hit number one on The New York Times Bestseller list.

Three years later, Tyler received the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons, which further explored themes of marriage and self-examination. Despite having won the prestigious Pulitzer, Tyler still refused to allow herself to be drawn into the spotlight. Quietly, contemplatively, she chose to continue publishing a sequence of uniformly fine novels, including Saint Maybe, Ladder of Years, and The Amateur Marriage.

A more recent novel, Digging to America (2006) reexamines many of her chief obsessions, while also possibly drawing upon a personal triumph—her marriage to Iranian psychiatrist and novelist Taghi Mohammad Modarressi—and the tragedy of his death in 1997. The novel follows the relationship between two families, the Iranian Yazdans and the all-American Donaldsons, as they become closer and closer and affect each other deeper and deeper over a succession of years. Digging to America is arguably Tyler's deepest and most profound work to date. It also delivers more of her peculiar brand of humor, which will surely please her longtime fans, thrilled that she continues spinning tales with the trademark attention to character that has distinguished her stories ever since she was a little girl, whispering to herself in the dark. Tyler may have decided to remain in the dark and out of the public eye, but the stories she has to tell have shed more than their share of light on the lives of her readers. (From Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews
(Pre-internet works have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon or Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

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,
Wall Street Journal



Discussion Questions
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. Maconremarks 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?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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