(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Macon Leary learns to cope with the murder of his twelve-year-old son and separation from his wife in Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. With the assistance of Muriel, a flamboyant young dog trainer with whom he becomes romantically involved, Macon assuages his grief, learns to assume control over his life, and becomes more contented than ever before.

As the novel begins, Macon and Sarah are returning early from a vacation on the beach. Neither, it seems, “had the heart for it.” Nor have they had the heart for much else since the murder of their son during a robbery the previous year. During the short car trip, the flaws of their marriage are revealed. Macon refuses to stop driving during a rainstorm, informing Sarah that he has a system for safe driving. Meantime, Sarah longs for a more spontaneous, less systematic man. When she announces that she is leaving him and abandoning their twenty-year marriage, Macon is stunned.

With Sarah gone, Macon is alone and lonely in his home in an upper-class Baltimore neighborhood. His sole companions are his son’s intractable dog, Edward, and Helen, a cat. Macon seldom ventures from his house, where he writes guidebooks for Americans who must travel but long for domestic routines. While others sit in armchairs and dream of travel, “accidental tourists” travel dreaming of home.

Always a methodical man, Macon becomes obsessive when Sarah departs. Preoccupied with conserving energy, he stops using the clothes dryer, although he often has to wear damp clothes. He attaches the popcorn maker—he eschews eggs, fearing food poisoning—to his bedside clock to avoid any unessential steps while preparing breakfast. To eliminate the inconvenience of making the bed, he sleeps in “body bags,” sheets that are sewn together to form a giant envelope.


(The entire section is 755 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Sarah and Macon are driving home from a vacation. A year earlier, twelve-year-old Ethan Leary had gone to summer camp in Virginia. One evening, he and another camper had snuck away to Burger Bonanza, where Ethan was senselessly murdered. As Macon drives, Sarah announces that she is leaving him. Macon points out to her that many couples who experience the death of a child separate, but he wants to stay together. Sarah finds Macon too predictable, methodical, and unemotional. Macon thinks Sarah is too spontaneous.

Macon makes a living writing travel books, primarily for businesspeople who, like Macon, hate to travel. They want to pretend they never leave home. Each book’s title includes the name of a particular city, for he feels that business travelers go only to cities. In his international books, Macon tells his readers how to travel with very little disruption in their lives, how to find hotels that have American-type service and restaurants that serve American-type food. He tells them where to find American chain restaurants, such as McDonald’s, what dishes to order because they are familiar, and where to find restaurants that serve things such as Chef Boyardee ravioli in Rome. He periodically updates his books.

When Sarah leaves him, Macon reorders his life. He starts wearing nothing but sweat suits. He washes his clothes in the bathtub as he showers. He cooks coffee and eggs and pops popcorn in his bedroom for breakfast. He disconnects the clothes dryer’s exhaust tube and teaches the cat to use the resulting hole as an exit and entrance to the house. He sleeps in what he thinks of as a body bag made of sheets sewn together.

Macon decides to use the coal shuttle to lower food for his dog, Edward, into the house. For this plan to work, however, Edward must be willing to eat in the basement, and Edward is terrified of the basement. Moreover, when Macon prepares to leave on his first trip to update a book since Sarah’s departure, he finds that Edward can no longer stay where he usually has because he has started to bite. Instead, Macon leaves Edward at the Meow-Bow Animal Hospital, where Macon meets Muriel Pritchard, who offers to train Edward.

One day, Macon reconnects the dryer so he can dry his sweat suits. The cat tries to get into the house, making a terrible noise that frightens Edward. Edward knocks Macon over, and Macon breaks his leg. Macon moves into his sister’s house and lives with her and his two brothers. On most evenings,...

(The entire section is 1019 words.)