Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Maladroit and the Misanthrope

Forget fairy tales and princesses. Give me a misanthrope over Cinderella any day! I just read The Accidental Tourist and A Man Called Ove (back to back) and suddenly have a new appreciation for the skeptics in my life. I will mention no names.

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler was written in 1985, but the story feels timeless. Macon Leary is a travel writer who doesn't particularly like travel writing. Beyond the burden of doing a job he doesn't like he has just experienced two heartbreaks: the senseless murder of his son and the subsequent departure of his wife. Macon is methodical, logical, and a bit of a maladroit. To cope with his loneliness he takes his dog and moves back to his childhood home with his sister and two brothers who also exude "Macon-like" characteristics. How many adults do you know would move back in with their siblings to find comfort? (Imagine a family who makes up an esoteric card game called Vaccination with such complex rules, no one outside of the family could possibly participate.) But it's this move that allows Macon to meet the vivacious Muriel when he takes his nasty dog to a training facility. Macon's life begins to transform in unpredictable ways.

When I began to read A Man Called Ove by Fredric Backman, frankly I was a little bit disappointed. Was this just going to be a story about your typical curmudgeon? That old guy who's quick to judge the no-good youth and is disgruntled by everyone's incapability? But I kept reading. And I wasn't disappointed for long. As I observed Ove's quest to end his life because of his immense grief, I found myself either laughing or crying. Similar to Ms. Tyler, Mr. Backman, writes his stories with humor and tragedy with an authentic subtlety. In one chapter, Ove's new neighbors disrupt Ove as he's attempting to hang himself. Not funny, but the tale is told with a wit as Ove contrasts strikingly with an awkward young IT guy and his brash wife. Haven't we all experienced that annoying disruption of a neighbor when we're trying to accomplish something? Poor old Ove continues to experience this kind of "luck" as he explores other ways to commit suicide.

Both of these books could've fallen flat by painting Macon or Ove into cliche. But these authors aren't acclaimed for nothing. The heros' journeys in these stories have a eerily similar formula:

Loner has a tragic past.
Loner is committed to a mangy pet.
Loner meets a brash women who teaches him how to connect.
Loner finds love and peace.

We begin to learn that Macon and Ove are much more than they appear–especially when we understand their love of others. This quote from Ove reflects this aspect perfectly:

"People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had."

The stories have vastly different endings; however, the only disappointment I felt at the end of each of these books was only that I was done reading them. When characters become so real, you really don't want to leave them behind. Luckily, both Ove and Tourist have been made into movies that have been added to my Amazon watchlist. I'll see them both again soon.