Have you read Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist? I read it years ago and despite the vicious book purges I’m prone to, it’s managed to maintain a spot on one of the wood bookshelves that cower in our basement. In my house, it’s the safest place for old books. I go down there so infrequently, all that nostalgia and young love actually stands a chance at survival.
I guess everything comes around again. Jean Rhys’s The Wide Sargasso Sea has been calling to me lately from that subterranean lair along with That Kind of Woman (a terrific short story collection). Who says it’s tougher for women to find an audience. Once out of the male-dominated fiction of my tween years, an artifact of the male-dominated science fiction and fantasy landscape, it seems the women on my shelves exploded outward, subsuming nearly all the space. My basement bookshelves are a homage to that younger Julie.
But never mind the gender politics, its The Accidental Tourist that’s on my mind today, specifically the male protagonist, Macon Leary. He of the obsessive and brittle nature. In case you never read the book or saw the movie, Macon wrote travel guides for those who didn’t like to travel, forcing himself onto planes in order to meet his publishing deadlines.
Today, I’m busily peering over the shoulder of yet another virtual stranger, looking over their family pictures of Gila Bend and Yuma Arizona. I may never have visited the area, but I know meth heads can be found in both these little towns. I can tell you that even the palm trees that line the main drag of Gila Bend look parched, their green leaves like little stunted arms lifted above their over-long bodies. I can tell you that the majority of the residents are Hispanic and that homes sell for as little as $28,000. I can even tell you about the fire that destroyed the Gila Bend Best Western Space Age Lodge. It was later rebuilt. Unfortunately,while the outside may still have that great sixty’s kitsch feel, inside it’s lost much of its former charm.
All this without a single visit. Seems a shame really. But it’s how my fiction goes. I visit new places, revisit locations I haven’t seen in twenty years, all on my computer. In a way it feels like I’m the opposite of Macon Leary: the wistful non-traveler, creating a virtual travelogue for myself and anyone else who cares to listen.