Yup, I Read Now

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

9780345452009-lAs I’ve mentioned before, I purchased The Accidental Tourist because Nick Hornby said that Anne Tyler was the author who made him want to write; and because Nick Hornby’s work has had a similar impact on me, I thought it crucial to read something she’d written. At the risk of sounding completely ignorant and in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to not knowing who Tyler was before Hornby brought her up at his book signing. This is especially embarrassing when you consider that she’s a Pulitzer Prize winner (she’s been nominated 3 times!). But you know, you live, you learn, you read The Accidental Tourist. That’s the circle of life. And it moves us all. Through despair and hope. Through faith and love, etc.

Last week, I plucked The Accidental Tourist out from my Stack O’ Books because I thought it would be fitting—I’m in Las Vegas at the moment—but I had no idea how fitting it would actually turn out to be. Macon Leary, the novel’s protagonist, is an anal-retentive travel guide writer—his books are all about low-impact travelling, showing business-types how to go on their business trips without having to engage with the cities they’re visiting. As it turned out, I spent the second day of this “vacation” in the hotel, never leaving, not even for food—I had a couple of Lunchables in the refrigerator.

(For some poorly thought out reason, I decided to tag along with my mother and grandmother on this Vegas trip; they came for an AARP convention. Being twenty-five years old, I do not meet the primary admission requirement for the American Association of Retired Persons, so I couldn’t go to any of their little events—not that I would have wanted to, anyway. And because we’re staying at an isolated resort, miles and miles away from the strip, I’ve been alternating between hotel confinement and doing granny things like eating at all you can eat buffets and sitting for hours at 1¢ slot machines.)

Though the days here have been lame for sure, the up-side is that I was able to finish the book without any distractions; and I’m glad that I read it (!) Tyler’s prose is unadorned but poignant, proof that plain language can be emotionally affecting (and win Pulitzer Prizes). There was a time when I thought that good writing was heavily poetic, sprinkled with bizarre metaphors and full of big, eruditey words. So in that way, there’s something refreshing about the book.

I’ve been waiting for a while to feel some investment, to actually care about a novel’s characters (!), and this is the first book that I’ve finished this past month that’s accomplished that. Macon begins an odd sort of relationship with this flighty, inarticulate dog trainer named Muriel—a character who was able to crawl so thoroughly under my skin that I really have to applaud Tyler’s skill.

The Accidental Tourist is about life, or I guess what it means to really live—as hackneyed as that sounds—and when a novel’s protagonist is a reserved man who cuts himself off from the outside world, you sort of expect him to find his redemption in some quirky woman with frizzy hair. But Tyler is able to create this very complicated and realistic internal life for Macon; there isn’t anything easy about his journey.

If I’d read this book ten years ago I don’t think that I would have said, “A-ha! Now I know what I’ll do with my life. I’ll become a writer!” But I can definitely see myself reading more of Tyler’s work.