Before I even knew there was a William Hurt film based on the novel, I had decided to try it out—based, if I remember correctly, on a random click at Amazon. I’d never heard of Ann Tyler before this, and in all honesty I can’t say that I was particularly impressed.
The Accidental Tourist is one of those books in which a whole lot of nothing happens, but takes forever to do so. I admit that this isn’t bad, but in Tyler’s case, I found it difficult to stay attentive. Her prose wavers between dusty and droll to excessively flowery, her plot flow sporadic, her characters at times wholly unbelievable.
The book charts the story of Macon and Sarah Leary, a couple whose young son Ethan was recently murdered, and it seems to have killed their relationship, as well. During their separation, Macon begins to fall apart, and ends up bunking with his siblings, who both mirror and encourage the odd Leary stoicism. Add in one ditzy dog trainer named Muriel and her precocious son Alexander (they’re always precocious), Macon’s yuppie boss Julian, and Macon’s precocious dog (sensing a theme?) Edward, and you’ve got yourself a nice, saccharine little package.
I don’t mean to say that the book is trite, but rather that Tyler fills the book with stock characters from the Novelist Starter Kit and then fails to do anything remotely interesting with them. The ending is disappointing but wholly expected. Her idea of character development is analogous to Stephen Kings: lots of little vignettes that describe the character in ways irrelevant to the plot. She seems to take a particular glee in painting Macon with his siblings, hammering the reader in the eyeballs with the fact that Macon’s entire family is comprised of oddballs, even though we as readers know and understand this perfectly well by chapter 4. Macon hates travel, and writes a series of pamphlets called The Accidental Tourist that tell business travelers how to make a foreign place seem like home. Tyler’s extended metaphor, then, is that Macon is an accidental tourist in his own life, and always seeks comfort in familiarity—not exactly the most profound or difficult of subtexts.
To be perfectly honest, I fail to see the merit that earned this book awards. I fail to see the writing talent that earned Tyler a Pulitzer. Perhaps I am just unable to appreciate the narrative, or the character constructions, or the (torpid) prose, but I just can’t recommend the book to anyone looking for an interesting read.