Sunday, January 8, 2012

REVIEW | The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

"And it seemed to him, as he sank back into his dreams, that she had as good as spoken aloud. About your son, she seemed to be saying: Just put your hand here [cesarean scar]. I'm scarred, too. We're all scarred. You are not the only one." (Tyler, Ann. The Accidental Tourist, Chapter 11)

Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist is a character study on how different people sort through painful experiences in life. After having my eye on the book for years, I decided to delve into it at long last!

Macon Leary, the main character, suffered the loss of his 12-year-old son. He and his wife, Sarah, have discovered they have little in common and have pursued a legal separation. Sarah has moved out of the house.

Macon writes travel guidebooks for travelers who don't want to leave home, such as businessmen. In his guides, Macon helps such travelers make their ways through unfamiliar cities while experiencing as little of those cities' unfamiliarity as possible. In other words, he helps them maintain a cocoon-like existence.

Macon himself has managed to maintain a cocoon-based life. He thrives on the predictable and possesses an unbalanced suspicion of the unpredictable--which probably explains Tyler's choice of the character's last name, Leary (a form of "leery". After attempts to branch out in life, Macon's siblings have managed to return to a sheltered, communal existence within the family home. As the story unfolds, Tyler weaves in a fascinating look at the background of Macon and his family. In doing so, she digs into Macon's psyche to produce a believable character. As you read about Macon's psychological issues as a child caused by instability in his family, you develop and understanding of why Macon and his siblings are, to put it bluntly, screwed up as adults. They are adults who lacked a proper opportunity to experience a normal childhood.

Tyler provides a subplot surrounding Macon's dog, which has grown unruly and has developed a habit of biting people that enter its own cocoon. To help train the dog, enter Muriel, a divorced mother of a young child. Despite her eccentricities, Muriel bears scars of her own. The dog, like Macon, resists and fights change in its life. As Muriel trains the dog to accept change, she also teaches Macon how to step beyond his own limited existence and to embrace change. She helps Macon face the loss of his son and determine his next step in life. Macon has his systems to avoid change; Muriel has her technique to make change palatable and achievable, albeit for dogs.

One word of warning: The story is quite sad as it takes the reader into the characters' pain. This is not an "upper" of a story, and even the ending, although fitting for the characters, felt disturbing and sad. So before entering their world, be prepared for a heavy story with solid insight into the struggles of those who might live just next door.

The novel's strongest suit is its well-drawn characters. The story isn't as much about plot as it is about the internal growth of the characters as they sort through hurt and confusion. In this, Tyler has proven successful.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year

Happy new year, readers! I hope your holidays were blessed big time.

On the home front, our Christmas was extra special because I finally got to meet my baby niece, who lives halfway across the country. She's such a treasure! Along with the visit came the playtime, diaper changing, feeding, burping and all the other good stuff that goes along with a baby, and Uncle John loved every minute of it. I'll play the proud uncle and post a couple of pictures here. My sister-in-law dubbed me the kid's nap buddy because, in the picture below, she managed to nap on my chest like that for about two hours Christmas day.

On the book front, thanks to you readers who ask about my "real" first novel, The Landing, written a few years ago but never published. I should have some news for you during 2012.

Slowly but surely, I'm making my way through the first draft of book number three. I'm about 2/3 of the way to my goal length and only about halfway through my outline, so I'll estimate its final length at 325-350 pages. Due to holidays and schedule variances in the fall, the writing process slows down temporarily, but I'll return to full mode this month.

I always enjoy hearing from readers, so feel free to contact me at my website. May 2012 prove a blessed and prosperous year for you all, and may you take a vital step forward toward your destiny.

Never give up!

John Herrick