Redhead By the Side of the Road is Anne Tyler's latest book and my first by the author. I found Redhead a calming, compact read, just right for these days of pandemic lock downs, polarizing politics, and confusing racial tension.
In this gem, readers meet Micah Mortimer, a 43-year-old man who owns his own business, Tech Hermit, where he is the only employee. He lives in the basement apartment rent-free since he is the "super" for the building doing odd jobs to keep up the repairs and needed tasks to keep thing running smoothly. He lives a simple life full of little routines that give his life the patina of order. For example, he always mops on Mondays and vacuums on Fridays. Even when others tease him about his schedule, he doesn't alter his routine. He has a girl friend, Cassie, and they enjoy a warm and friendly relationship until suddenly they don't. Micah can't figure out what he has does wrong. Around the same time, a person from Micah's past unexpectedly shows up causing further disruptions to his ordered life.
Redhead By the Side of the Road has many positive aspects to it, starting with the title. I usually search for the meaning of the title as I read and this one finally hit me over the head about mid-book. It isn't a person, as I thought it would be, but is a metaphor for the different ways that Micah is blind to his own faults and perceptions. He needs help to see them clearly.
According to what I've learned from my little bit of research on the author, Micah is a typical Tyler character. He is likable and quirky. "Whether she's writing about unfulfilled empty-nesters, lonely widowers or young control freaks, Tyler's novels demonstrate that it's never too late to change your life" (NPR). Even though Micah leads a perfectly structured life, which is the life he thinks he wants, relationships don't always fit into this kind of organization neatly. Tyler lets us get very close to Micah as he starts to recognize this. Don't you love a novel where the protagonist makes good growth? I do.
Micah may be a man of routines but he is also goofy and funny. He likes to speak french to himself when he cooks and he thinks that the traffic gods are always looking down on him when he is driving, remarking about the amazing fetes that Micah pulls off on the road. I laughed every single time that Micah evoked a comment from them. When an immature teenager is seen wearing a t-shirt with the words "Grown Up" on the front I couldn't help but laugh at the irony. I was delighted when Micah was tripped by a coat left on the ground by children jumping rope while singing out what sounds like "mislaid mislaid."
Redhead By the Side of the Road is a small story with a very small set of a characters. It was a calm book to read with just enough humor to keep it lighthearted even when worrying situations arise. I'd say it is the perfect book to read right now with all the turmoil in our lives and I'm glad I did.
I listened to the audiobook, expertly read by MacLeod Andrews. He voice is both warm and wry, just right to be narrating a story about Micah who is also warm and wry. It is the book club selection for September's meeting. I'll circle back after our discussion to update you.
PS-We had a great discussion. It was a fun book to dissect. Here is a list of good reader's guide.
(RHS Book Club, September 2020)