The Accidental Tourist

by Anne Tyler

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Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 613

Anne Tyler's novels have gained mostly favorable reviews, from her first publication, If Morning Ever Comes, in 1964, to her most recent, A Patchwork Planet, in 1999. In the 1970s Tyler came to the attention of novelist Gail Godwin, who reviewed her fifth novel, Celestial Navigation (1974), and John Updike, who reviewed Searching for Caleb (1976). After that, Tyler's books received national and eventually international attention. The Accidental Tourist, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, is considered by many to be her best work. Most critics cite Tyler's astute and compassionate characterizations and clever intermingling of humor and pathos as the reasons for the novel's critical and commercial success.

A Library Journal reviewer asserted, "Not a character, including Macon's dog Edward, is untouched by delightful eccentricity in this charming story, full of surprises and wisdom." Larry McMurtry in the New York Times Book Review found Muriel Pritchett "as appealing a woman as Miss Tyler has created, and upon the quiet Macon she lavishes the kind of intelligent consideration that he only intermittently gets from his womenfolk." McMurtry added that the novel's themes, "some of which [Tyler] has been sifting for more than twenty years, cohere with high definition in the muted ... personality of Macon Leary."

Some reviewers, however, find some of the novel's characters unrealistic. For example, McMurtry admitted, "Two aspects of the novel do not entirely satisfy. One is the unaccountable neglect of Edward, the corgi, in the last third of the book. The other questionable element is the dead son, Ethan. Despite an effort now and then to bring him into the book in a vignette or a nightmare, Ethan remains mostly a premise." Yet he tempered his criticism when he concluded, "At the level of metaphor ... [Tyler] has never been stronger."

Critics also applaud the novel's mixture of comedy and tragedy. Peter Prescott, in his Newsweek review of the novel, concluded that Tyler's "comedies," including The Accidental Tourist, "are of the very best sort, which is to say that they are always serious, that they combine the humor of a situation with a narrative voice that allows itself moments of wit." Richard Eder, in his article in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, noted that the character of Macon Leary "is an oddity of the first water, and yet we grow so close to him that there is not the slightest warp in the lucid, touching and very funny story of an inhibited man moving out into life." McMurtry determined that this quality helps make the novel one of Tyler's best: "Miss Tyler shows, with a fine clarity, the mingling of misery and contentment in the daily lives of her families, reminding us how alike—and yet distinct—happy and unhappy families can be."

Some critics, however, argued that the comedy masks a lack of development in the novel. Chicago Tribune Book World critic John Blades wondered whether "Tyler, with her sedative resolutions to life's most grievous and perplexing problems, can be taken seriously as a writer." Elizabeth Mahn Nollen, in her article on the novel in Family Matters in the British and American Novel, answered critics like Blades who find the upbeat ending in The Accidental Tourist to be "candy coated" with a discussion of the theme of parenting. Nollen claimed that as a result, "the redemption/regeneration of certain characters has not been taken as seriously as it might be." She found the novel to be an effective study of a father who provides "essentially positive, if complicated, examples of parenthood." The ending, she argued, "is the only closure the author could choose to get her message across: that fatherhood matters—that it can be a redemptive and healing force."

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The Accidental Tourist


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