Book Review for “Redhead by the Side of the Road” by Anne Tyler.
As a man in his forties, Micah Mortimer has everything in order. He has his own business where he’s his own boss and only employee, helping people with their computers as the “Tech Hermit”. He is also the super/handyman for the apartment block where he lives rent-free in the basement apartment. He has his routine of his daily run, work, shopping, cooking, keeping his home clean, and his life in order in general. He even has Cass, a “woman friend,” who he’s been dating for three years. But after Cass tells him she might get evicted from her apartment, and then the son of his first girl friend from college shows up on his doorstep, things start going a bit out of control for Micah.
First of all, the reason I’m putting this review up under the guise of Short Story Sunday is because this is quite a short book, less than 200 pages, which I’d call it novella length. And with all the reading I’ve been doing, and all the books I still have to read, I’m needing to slip in more reviews. So, since a novella is a shorter than average book, I think my readers will forgive me for tagging this review in this way.
That said, I should mention that this book doesn’t include a sultry woman with flaming tresses, as the title would imply. No, those who read this book will be quite amused to find out what Tyler means by this, as it certainly made me smile when I figured it out. My only question is why she did this, since I can’t seem to find a direct metaphor here, unless what she’s saying is that Micah simply isn’t what he appears to be on the surface, and you need to look at him closely to see what he really is about. Then again, maybe she’s saying that Micah’s own self-image is a bit blurry, and he needs a bit of external help to see himself clearly. Whichever it is, or if there’s something else altogether that Tyler is trying to say here, it surely is a point of ponderance.
Much like many of the characters in Tyler’s other novels, our protagonist here Micah, is a very ordinary type of person. Someone you might not notice in a crowd, but obviously not someone who isn’t at least somewhat attractive. He’s likable enough, but not someone who has a circle of friends, and as he’s aged, he seems to have lived up to his hermit handle. Even the little dilemmas that Tyler puts into Micah’s life to upset his routine aren’t life shattering things. But for someone so set in his orderly ways, these things really do make him sit up and take notice, and even re-evaluate his whole life. Furthermore, when you’ve read this book to the end, you’ll have a very vivid picture of Micah, both physically and as a complex person who is smarter and more emotional than he seemed at the beginning of the book.
All of this is done in the most commonplace, straightforward language that it could almost be considered dull, and yet, it isn’t at all boring or even predictable. In fact, it is so honest and sincere, that it is actually charming. See, that’s what makes Tyler’s books so special. On the one hand, she writes deceptively candid prose. On the other hand, she includes levels of subtext and suggestion that are layered one upon the other. That means that on our first reading we think we have one thing, but as we think about it after the last page, we get something else altogether. You can’t just read a Tyler book and take it totally at face value. You have to think about it for a bit, in order to get the full effect of what she’s saying about human nature in general, and her characters specifically.
All this means that Tyler has given us a very pleasant story, that has just enough conflict, and with interesting characters (not just Micah) that we can easily sympathize, and even empathize with, even if we disagree with some of their actions or decisions. While this book feels a touch more simplistic than some of her other books, I still enjoyed it very much. I think, therefore, it deserves four and a half stars out of five (even if I can’t quite put my finger on why I don’t think it deserves a full five stars. Maybe it’s just because I liked Clock Dance and A Spool of Blue Thread a tiny bit better), and it will be a lovely quick read for Anne Tyler fans as well as lovers of this type of pleasantly gentle, yet deceptively involved, contemporary fiction in general.
Knopf – Random House released “Redhead by the Side of the Road” by Anne Tyler on April 7, 2020. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.