Anne Tyler

The Accidental Tourist

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The Accidental Tourist Summary

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The Accidental Tourist is a contemporary romance novel by Anne Tyler. The book tells the story of a travel writer grieving the loss of his son and the end of his marriage, whose lonely world changes when a strange dog-trainer enters his life. It was published in 1985 by Ballantine Books and again in 2002, and it was generally well received. It received a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1986. Tyler received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for another novel, Breathing Lessons, and she’s now a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Macon Leary lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He writes travel guides and recently lost his son to a shooting in a local restaurant. His wife, Sarah, moves out and wants a divorce. She feels that Macon hasn’t been there for her, that he’s left her to grieve on her own. Lost in his own grief, Macon accepts her decision, taking comfort from knowing he can now indulge his peculiar habits, which Sarah can’t stand.

Macon is eccentric; he loves to invent things to use around the house. He also has unconventional habits, such as soaking his dishes in bleach for days on end instead of washing them normally and cleaning his own clothes in dirty bathwater. Sarah finds her own apartment, glad to get away from these eccentricities.

Macon slips into a routine that cuts him off from the outside world. He’s supposed to be working on travel guides, but when his agent calls him asking for an update, he must negotiate an extended deadline. Instead of focusing on his book, he starts tinkering with old appliances, inventing new uses for them. However, disconnecting a tube from the dryer he doesn’t want to use anymore, he breaks his leg and injures his dog.

Because of his injury, he moves back home with his sister, Rose. His two brothers also live there—one, Charles, never married, and the other, Porter, is divorced. Macon decides to work on his book to take his mind off everything. He forgets to tell his agent, Julian, about his new address, but Julian tracks him down, apologizing for being hard on him when he had no idea about Sarah and Macon’s accident.

Macon, however, doesn’t think Julian did anything wrong and gives him new pages for his manuscript. Julian wants him to write reviews for hotels and restaurants in major US cities, which upsets Macon because it means more traveling and upheaval. Around this time, Macon meets Muriel, a dog-trainer who helps him tame his unruly, disobedient Corgi, Edward.

Muriel makes obedience training look very easy, but Macon can’t get the hang of it. He’s frustrated and annoyed, particularly since no one wants to look after Edward while Macon goes traveling unless he can tame him. Macon wishes he could hide from all his problems forever—until Sarah calls him one evening to check in on him.

Heartbroken that Sarah left him, Macon focuses his energy on training Edward. Through his sessions with Muriel, he finds someone to talk to. Muriel is the opposite of Sarah—she’s crass, honest, talkative, and a bit eccentric. When he’s with her, Macon feels more like himself, even if it takes him a while to realize it. He feels she understands his odd habits, and she doesn’t punish him for them. Instead, she likes that he’s different.

Muriel introduces Macon to her son, Alexander, who’s often poorly. The three of them get along well, spending time together outside of dog training. Macon learns that Muriel is also divorced because her ex-husband couldn’t cope with Alexander’s medical bills. She and Alexander make the best of their situation, relying on each other for support and friendship. Macon admires this about them. He starts feeling lonely and wants to do something about it.

One day, he kisses Muriel. His feelings are reciprocated. Alongside the dog training, Macon and Muriel begin a relationship, and he moves in with her and Alexander. He treats Alexander like the son he lost, giving the boy the love his own father could not. Muriel accepts Macon’s odd habits around the home, letting him do what he wants.

Meanwhile, Muriel quits her steady job, which upsets Macon. He leaves her and Alexander and goes to Winnipeg for his writing. Sarah calls him and asks to move into Rose’s house because her lease is up. She’s reconsidering signing the divorce papers. Macon tells her she can move in and hangs up.

Sarah wants to rekindle things, but Macon’s not so sure. He’s in love with Muriel. He goes to New York, but Muriel finds him at the airport. She doesn’t want to lose him; he must choose between Sarah and Muriel. Sarah, however, feels it’s too late for them to find new partners—sometimes you must stick with the old. The novel is open-ended; it isn’t clear what the future holds for any of the characters.