About the book: Anne Tyler’s tenth novel, published in 1985, was largely praised, particularly for the characters of Macon Leary and Muriel Pritchett. As the book begins, Leary is left by his longtime wife as the two remain racked with mourning for a recently deceased young son. Leary makes his way with the help of his highly methodical family, meeting the eccentric Muriel at a pet hotel and kindling an unexpected new romance. Geena Davis won an Oscar for playing Muriel in the 1988 film adaptation.
The book’s title refers to a series of travel guides Macon writes, premised on the fact that he actually hates to travel — making him the ideal guru for businesspeople who have to head off against their wishes. The “accidental” travel becomes an allegory for Macon’s emotional life, as he realizes that he’s allowed himself to be swept along with the tides instead of proactively choosing who (and with whom) he wants to be.
About the audiobook: Gravel-voiced narrator Joe Barrett limits his characters’ dimensions. He makes Macon into an ancient-sounding stick in the mud, while Muriel gets a cartoonish squawking voice. Better to put this one on your IRL nightstand.
What’s for dinner? A turkey cooked overnight, at 140º. “I’m trying this new method,” says Macon’s sister Rose. “It’s supposed to save energy.” Of course, the cautious Leary siblings leave the bird largely untouched. Rose’s beau Julian digs in and survives, despite the fact that experts unanimously agree with Macon: 140º is perilously close to the bacterial danger zone.
Something to be thankful for: The book reads like a very long episode of news from Lake Wobegon, which can be frustrating but is ultimately rewarding, full of gentle but genuine insights on life and love. “After a certain age,” observes Macon poignantly, “it seems to me you can only choose what to lose.”
– Jay Gabler is listening his way through literature’s most notable Thanksgiving novels. He welcomes suggestions.