The Accidental Tourist Essay - Critical Context

Anne Tyler

Critical Context

With the publication of The Accidental Tourist, Tyler’s professional and popular reputation expanded. The third of her books to be nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award—after Morgan’s Passing (1980) and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)—The Accidental Tourist was the first to be awarded the prize. Aided by the release of a Hollywood film version of the book, Tyler’s readership expanded measurably. As a result of her growing reputation, several of her earlier works that had enjoyed limited success were reprinted. In addition, her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons (1988), won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Tyler later published a twelfth novel, Saint Maybe (1991). She has also written numerous book reviews and short stories.

While Tyler credits the Southern writer and master of eccentric characterizations Eudora Welty as an early and principal influence, her own writing defies classification. While there are Southern qualities in her writing, including depictions of eccentric individuals and regional speech patterns, her style is unique and immediately identifiable as her own. The setting of her latter novels is Baltimore, but her writing captures a universality of human experience. She admirably describes nuances of behavior in her characters, and she explores the depths of their natures through minutiae. Situations that would be merely banal in the hands of most other writers become profound tools for Tyler. Although her characters are often eccentric, they are nevertheless recognizably human.

Her books share common themes: relationships between siblings, between parents and children, or between husbands and wives. Families, especially brothers and sisters, are drawn together by an inexorable pull. Characters are seen reacting in unpredictable but understandable ways to the often confusing and difficult world in which they live. Because Tyler explores similar human relationships, the characters in The Accidental Tourist are similar to those in her other works. Yet her characterizations are sufficiently unique to hold reader interest through several books. Many characters, Muriel in this instance, are truly memorable. Edward, moreover, has become a standard by which other fictional dogs are compared.