The Accidental Tourist

The Accidental Tourist

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At times The Accidental Tourist presents its self as a gentle comedy. This is shown by the characters humour: the ineffectual Macon and the Brash Muriel, Edward the Neurotic dog, the eccentric Leary's and Julian the playboy courting Rose the old fashioned romantic. There is the amusement value of situations like Macon's method of washing clothes, the impenetrable ‘vaccination', and the disastrous thanks giving turkey. Anne Tyler sees the joke in the human behaviour, and presents it in a way that allows the audience to become engaged and laugh at the characters. But there is more to the novel than just jokes. Under the surface, it is an often sad book. Most of the characters seem lost, searching for something that eludes them- wether the memories of happiness or yearning to belong.

In the accidental tourist Anne Tyler depicts the views each character has on the world. In the sharpest focus throughout the novel is Macon's view, based on the need for control, the fear of change, distrust of others. In his view the world is worse than alien, it is dangerous. His destabilising childhood experiences, his vocation, the trauma of Ethan's death all conspire to justify his fight from the world. As Sarah put so poignantly, when she confesses to the view that ‘people are basically evil', what makes him intolerable is that he always believed that anyway.

Sarah a one time optimist turned cynic by the brutal murder of her only child has crossed over form the company of those who love life to those who fear it. Perhaps her vision, so sadly tainted by experience, touches us even more than Macon's. Unlike him, she is a character who never makes us laugh. There are no humorous obsessions, no irritating habits to distance us from her sad and all too recognisable loss of faith. We are directed to Muriel's world view by the logic of the story. Macon and Sarah's views cannot help them. Macon descends into something close to a breakdown before being rescued by Muriel. Sarah seems to have scaped by getting away, but at the end of the novel she is a pale shadow of a women, fearful, clinging to a memory of her husband, a hollow person. As Macon finds himself senses when he listens to Sarah's perfect gramma, after listening to Muriel's broken English.

The Leary's are no better, behind all the crazy habits, the alphabetical tins and the indecipherable vacation game, lies Tyler's sly argument that these people have some how missed out.

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Rose's out burst over the thanksgiving turkey says it all. Rose how ever makes break out, chasing after love and hope instead of worrying about it. It is only when Macon makes up with Muriel that he begins to really live, and to forget his fears. He accepts the ‘scars' in life and is able to start a new beginning, he has opted for the adventure of time not the safe inertia of withdrawal.

In her small cast of characters, Tyler has fixed the major alternatives for facing life. Fight or flight; which is our natural instinct and which will provide the best result? Laid out so bluntly it seems intolerably like an armchair psychologist or even a sermon. Her fiction is so warmly engrossing her characters so amusing and sympathetic, that we follow her argument to the natural conclusion with out a murmur. Tyler endorses Muriel, but not without letting us see the bleaker side, allowing Macon the intelligence to see that it is not going to be easy. She has been accused of being folksy and cute, but her novel contains plenty of tragedy, for all it is a happy ending.

The accidental tourist is amusing. Tyler's sense of humour and understanding of the contradictory, often absurd nature of human behaviour gives us lots to enjoy. But she looks at both sides. If I laughed at characters, I also felt sad for them. I watched as the struggled with their problems and changed for the better. There are different ways of coming at life, of trying to survive its surprises and oddities each has it advantages and disadvantage but ultimately it's those who engage on the battle rather than try to escape, that get somewhere. Muriel may not have all the answers, but she offers Macon more of a future than h had before. The accidental tourist offers readers competing views but finally it is the Martian view that prevails, an optimistic vision to encapsulate a funny but also serious text.
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