My second May read for my Anne Tyler 2021 project and we’re back to the standard Vintage editions which now alternate with the big Quality Paperbacks Direct editions I sometimes had of later books. Interestingly, when I was talking with my husband about how I’m having trouble remembering a lot of these novels, and also engaging with a couple of them, he was surprised and said, “Really, when I met you [20 years ago] you were all about Anne Tyler”. And I suppose I did buy most of these copies 20 years ago. Of course I’m continuing with the project and I found a lot to engage with in this one, even with its dark heart of tragedy which creeps out through the pages to affect everyone’s lives.

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “The Accidental Tourist”

(12 January 1996)

It occurred to him (not for the first time) that the world was divided sharply down the middle: Some lived careful lives and some lived careless lives, and everything that happened could be explained by the difference between them. But he could not have said, not in a million years, why he was so moved by the sight of Muriel’s thin quilt trailing across the floor where she must have dragged it when she rose in the morning. (p. 254)

Of course we have the famous eccentric, Macon Leary, who hates to travel but writes travel books for a living (for people who hate to travel, and I love it when he meets a couple of his fans during the novel), and his special ways of organising the house which, when his wife ups and leaves, combine to bring about his literal downfall and his moving in with his sister and two brothers, all equally weirdly over-organised (I have never forgotten Rose’s extreme alphabetisation of her kitchen, which always makes me feel better when I’m turning tins the “right way round” in the cupboards).

So we have one of those large eccentric families grown up and without the influence of their parents, although it turns out they do have a mother who is alive and well and odd in her own way (notably, she has rushes of enthusiasm for different hobbies, like lots of the men we’ve met before in Tyler). Like in “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” we also have little snatches of side-stories, notably from Macon’s neighbour. We have our grey-eyed, blond-haired serious men/brothers and our woman from a rackety background who is just about getting by. Macon, though, gradually comes to see, through his friendship with the plucky (and pushy: I’d like her to meet Morgan from “Morgan’s Passing!) Muriel, that there might be another, different way to be. Meanwhile, Edward is one of the best-described dogs in literature and Macon’s publisher, Julian, is a wonderful character who we do come to love.

But lying beneath all of this is the death of Macon’s son, Ethan, in a random incident which makes no sense. Edward was his dog, Sarah and Macon have been pulled apart rather than together by the death, and in a very poignant scene, his cousins still miss him and think about him. So Macon is stuck because of his personality but also because of this awful event, and devastatingly we see how someone who appears just eccentric and closed off is just as destroyed by this as someone who might express their emotions more. As Tyler seems to say quite often, being yourself is enough and people need to try to understand other types of people.

There’s an interesting serendipity with the last novel I read (“Mamma”), where Macon finds life isn’t as tidy in life as in a movie when a couple splits up (in “Mamma”, Joanna thinks no one in a novel would act like her), so that’s one for Bookish Beck! For animal lovers, Edward and also Helen the cat do just fine.

So a comic book that’s also moving, a book with a dark heart that shadows it, darker than Tyler will, I think, go for a good while yet. I did enjoy it.

Have you read this one? What did you think?