The Accidental Tourist Essay - The Accidental Tourist

Anne Tyler

The Accidental Tourist

Set against the background of Baltimore and its environs, Tyler’s tenth novel in twice that many years opens a year after the senseless death of Macon’s son Ethan in a holdup and on the eve of Macon’s divorce from Sarah. Never temperamentally matched, Macon and Sarah have reacted differently to Ethan’s murder. Sarah, in despair over the world’s evil, has mistaken Macon’s aloofness for an absence of hurt, whereas in actuality, he simply cannot cope without muffling his feelings.

Macon, like the business travelers who buy the “Accidental Tourist” guidebooks that he writes, has always preferred the programmed and known to the haphazard and strange. As a child growing up, he developed a routine for everything, from baked potatoes each night to the esoteric rules for a complicated family card game; as an adult traveling in foreign countries, he assiduously avoids chance acquaintances and patronizes known restaurants serving American-style food.

Ethan’s Welsh corgi, Edward, however, has not tolerated his young master’s death with Macon’s control, instead turning vicious and unmanageable. Macon’s sudden need for an experienced dog trainer leads to an affair with Muriel Pritchett, a divorcee half his age.

Life with the frizzy-haired Muriel and her pampered son, Alexander, seems at first a confusing if colorful substitute for Macon’s old routines yet gradually becomes a saving grace allowing Macon to become fully himself. Once liberated, Macon desires to share his renewed self with Sarah, only to discover that they still define love and loss differently.

THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, both gently comic and poignant, unsentimentally lays bare the character of a man whose heart is not underdeveloped, only overprotected.


Almond, Barbara R. “The Accidental Therapist: Intrapsychic Change in a Novel.” Literature and Psychology 38 (Spring/Summer, 1992): 84-105. Discusses Macon’s character development in psychological terms. Sees Muriel as functioning as Macon’s therapist.

Bail, Paul. Anne Tyler: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Bail takes a critical look at Tyler’s work. His discussions focus primarily on individual novels, including The Accidental Tourist. Students and general readers will appreciate the sections on plot, characters, themes, literary devices, historical setting, and point of view. Biographical information is also included.

Crane, Gwen. “Anne Tyler.” In Modern American Women Writers, edited by Elaine Showalter et al. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1991. This very informative volume provides biographical information and textual criticism on each of the writers covered....

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