The Accidental Tourist

by Anne Tyler

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The Accidental Tourist

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1142

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. Crane offers a brief biographical history of Tyler and includes portions of an interview with her. The entry also includes brief textual criticism on Tyler’s novels.

Croft, Robert W. An Anne Tyler Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. A comprehensive and detailed guide to Tyler’s works, this volume includes biographical material, as well as critical pieces on her major novels. One chapter is devoted exclusively to The Accidental Tourist. Also includes an extensive bibliography and appendices.

Durham, Joyce. “City Perspectives in Anne Tyler’s Morgan’s Passing and The Accidental Tourist.The Midwest Quarterly 34 (Autumn, 1992): 42-56. Durham compares the characters of Morgan Gower in Morgan’s Passing and Macon Leary in The Accidental Tourist, both of whom she says are urban survivors who retain hope and a sense of control despite their surroundings. She claims that their characters lend definition to the cities they inhabit and show how people can adapt to an urban environment.

Eder, Richard. “The Accidental Tourist.” Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 15, 1985, 3, 10. In a highly laudatory review, Eder discusses Tyler’s techniques of characterization, including the “made-up quality” of her characters who are designed to instruct and entertain. “They are odd but utterly recognizable: mirrors set at an extravagant angle to catch what is going by,” writes Eder.

Evans, Elizabeth. Anne Tyler. New York: Twayne, 1993. Discusses Tyler’s books, including The Accidental Tourist, in the context of broader issues in her work. Evans sees humor as a central feature in Tyler’s work and notes that the author examines women’s roles in society and familial relationships in detail.

Kline, Karen E. “The Accidental Tourist on Page and on Screen: Interrogating Normative Theories About Film Adaptation.” Literature-Film Quarterly 24 (January, 1996): 70-83. Comparing Tyler’s book to Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay, Kline offers an assessment of how successfully a novel can be interpreted by film. She explores three approaches: the transformative, pluralist, and materialist. Her essay is an interesting commentary on the interaction of literature and film.

McMurtry, Larry. “Life Is a Foreign Country.” The New York Times Book Review 90 (September 8, 1985). McMurtry places Macon firmly in the tradition of many of Tyler’s male characters who are unusually influenced by strong women. McMurtry views Tyler’s metaphor of the accidental tourist as strong, capturing the essence of most of her male characters, who live as accidental tourists in their own lives. He also discusses another common theme in her work, the magnetism of sibling relationships.

Petry, Alice Hall. Understanding Ann Tyler. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. After providing context for Tyler’s fiction in an overview that discusses her work in relation to other authors, Petry then devotes individual chapters to each of Tyler’s books. She discusses in detail the plot of The Accidental Tourist and provides basic interpretations of characters and events.

Schaeffer, Pamela. “Anne Tyler: Family Novelist with a Twist.” National Catholic Reporter 32 (May 24, 1996): 25. Schaeffer discusses four of Tyler’s novels; although she finds parts of The Accidental Tourist “poignant and funny,” she finds some characters to be “superficially drawn” and “unconvincing.”

Sternburg, Janet, ed. The Writer on Her Work. Vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton, 1980. This indispensable volume contains essays written by seventeen contemporary women writers. Each writer shares her story of why she writes.

Voelker, Joseph C. Art and the Accidental in Anne Tyler. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989. A collection of essays written by Voelker on the fiction of Anne Tyler. His chapter on The Accidental Tourist looks at Macon Leary as representative of Sigmund Freud’s theories. Instead of using Freud’s theory of id versus superego (see the entry by Zahlan, below), Voelker examines Macon’s compulsive behavior, which dominates Tyler’s novel.

Willrich, Patricia Rowe. “Watching Through Windows: A Perspective on Anne Tyler.” The Virginia Quarterly Review 68 (Summer, 1992): 497-516. This insightful article offers biographical details on Tyler’s life. Willrich provides information on Tyler’s childhood and emergence as a writer at Duke University. Contains bits and pieces of an interview with Tyler.

Zahlan, Anne Ricketson. “Traveling Towards the Self: The Psychic Drama of Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist.” In The Fiction of Anne Tyler, edited by C. Ralph Stephens. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. Presented from a psychological point of view, this essay examines the character of Macon Leary utilizing Sigmund Freud’s theory of id versus superego. This critical essay provides useful insights into Tyler’s major themes and concerns.

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Critical Evaluation


Critical Overview