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The Accidental Tourist review

I'm a bit of an Anne Tyler freak. Ever since Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was one of those serendipitous recommended readings, I've follwed her stories of uptight Baltimoreans. It's strange that I never got to The Accidental Tourist, where she nails the lonely obsessive character, who also happen to be a travel writer.

Macon Leary writes for businessmen who find being in another country a bit of an inconvenience. He tells them where to get Sweet and Low in Beijing, and tests restaurants by ordering the same breakfast in half a dozen different places.

As a job guidebook writing comes across as rather creepy.

Leary's life of routine and order turns on two big plot points - the death of his son and meeting a dog-whisperer at the Meow Bow Animal Hospital. The death is obviously massive, so Tyler treats it with subtlety, mostly unfolding outside of the book and readers only see it's repercussions: the fraying marriage and Leary's retreat into order and eventual move back home with his even more obsessive family.

The dog whisperer is anything but subtle.

Roaring in with both lips blazing, wild Muriel aims tame Leary's dog who has been difficult since his son died. In the film she was played by Geena Davis, which I'm glad I found out after. Davis doesn't seem scatty and crazy enoough to pull off Muriel, but as she scored a best supporting actress Oscar I could be wrong.

The plot is textbook: set up a character with a flaw then have events and other characters challenge it. Leary is drawn into life after years of being an armchair critic by Muriel and the climax in Paris sees Leary choosing between the safety of his old life and the uncertainty of Muriel.

The book so effectively captures the guidebook writing process that I found myself wondering how Tyler had researched it.

She has a great scene where Leary swipes a menu from a fancy restaurant which exonerated me from these same acts of petty theft across the globe. There's the business-like planning of the logistics that takes over and the motion-sickness that sometimes makes you feel like scurrying back to the things you know and avoiding the pushing on the pull door, the complicated negotiations for a cup of coffee in another language and the many challenges of travel. Like any great writer, Tyler worked from her own experiences and amplified them to get an insight into travel as work. Anal Leary became more of a colleague than a character as I travelled around Finland.