Redhead by the Side of the Road
Author: Anne Tyler
Finished: May 3, 2020
Image from Amazon
What a fantastic novel! Micah Mortimer is a loner – but not a rebel; he’s just a bachelor who lives a very quiet, very regulated life.
“You have to wonder what goes through the mind of a man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone. At seven fifteen every morning you see him set out on his run. … At ten p.m. or so the three squinty windows behind the foundation plantings go dark. (His apartment is in the basement. It is probably not very cheery.)” [Loc 54]
Micah has difficulty interacting with people – he just doesn’t get the nuances of relationships.
“Sometimes when he was dealing with people, he felt like he was operating one of the claw machines on a boardwalk,those shovel things where you tried to scoop up a prize but the controls were too unwieldy and you worked at too great a remove.” [Loc 1955]
This type of writing is an example of Anne Tyler’s strength as a writer. She uses an exquisite extended metaphor to describe Micah. We’ve all seen those games and can instantly see Micah’s challenges in life.
His quiet, regulated life is thrown for a loop. He has a girlfriend, Cass, but completely misses a signal from her and that relationship heads south. On the same day, a young man, Brink, shows up on his doorstep thinking that Micah might be his biological father. This pulls him back into his past when he reaches out to that old girlfriend to let her know Brink is safe. He starts to recognize his problem:
“He had handled this all wrong, he realized. But even given a second chance, he wasn’t sure what he’d do differently.” [Loc 772]
This short, tight novel shows Micah through three lenses of a couple of weeks in his life. We see what caused that sense of order in his life through a party at one of his sisters’ house. We also get a glimpse of what went wrong with his past relationships through his conversations with Brink’s mother – his old girlfriend. And we see who he is today through his interactions with his clients – he is a computer repair person.
His life is disrupted – he has even stopped some of his daily chore rituals. But he can’t identify exactly why this has happened or what to do about it.
“All day he had felt a kind of nagging ache in the hollow of his chest. He felt as if he’d flubbed up in some way. In fact, in many ways.” [Loc 1201]
I was so rooting for Micha to be able to free himself from the controlled rut of his life. The events of the week have shaken him to the core; the question is: now that he’s starting to identify he has a problem will he be able to change? Or will he give up like he has done before?
This beautiful novel shows us a person who we understand, who we know. Fiction’s job is to show us the real world through a mode up one and Anne Tyler aces it here. This is the first 5 star rating I’ve given a book in over half a year. I can’t recommend it highly enough; but be forewarned you may not be able to put it down.
2 thoughts on “Reading: Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler”
I loved the book, too. When I teach novel writing, I use one of Anne Tyler’s early novels, LADDER OF YEARS, because she manages to capture the character’s inner and outer struggles so well.
I’ll add that to my list. She has certainly written a lot of books.