Book Review: Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Redhead by the Side of the Road…

About the Book:

From the bestselling author of A Spool of Blue Thread: an offbeat love story about mis-steps, second chances and the elusive art of human connection.

Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work – his TECH HERMIT sign cheerily displayed on the roof of his car – maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs (7:15, every morning). He is content with the steady balance of his life.

But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction because of a cat. And when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle.

Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.

My Thoughts:

I adored this novel. The hours I spent reading it were a pure bliss of escape from the lounge room I have been in for what now seems like forever. And you really do escape: it’s as though Anne Tyler picks you up and pulls you into the story, casting you into an observational role, her writing is just that immersive. Micah has quite a large family and there was a section where he goes to lunch at his sister’s, the whole extended family is there, probably upward of twenty people if you consider the children. There are several conversations going on and so many sisters and husbands and nieces and nephews with children of their own, and yet, I didn’t once experience even a flicker of confusion as to what was going on and who was doing the talking at any given time. I love fiction that can pull you in like that, create a sense of rowdiness that appears chaotic yet is tightly controlled by the skill of the author. Anne Tyler is a master at this.

Now, Micah was such an endearing character. Driven so much by routine, even his spontaneity was somewhat planned. I will confess, just quietly, that I do share Micah’s views on housekeeping:

‘It was Micah’s personal theory that if you actually noticed the difference you made when you cleaned – the coffee table suddenly shiny, the rug suddenly lint-free – it meant you had waited too long to do it.’

I drive myself spare sometimes on account of this but it’s somewhat ingrained within me and difficult to fight. This whole novel is just brimming with witty and honest observations, this is the sort of humour that I can’t get enough of. It’s also the type of humour that is difficult for an author to nail without appearing as though they’re trying too hard, but not so for Anne Tyler. She hits the right note each and every time. Micah was a considerate and caring man, as demonstrated with his neighbours and family, but he sometimes missed the beat with his more personal relationships, much to his own ire. I loved the way he interacted with his sisters, all older than him. They mothered him but were also very grounding. The entire family dynamics within this story were fantastic, actually.

The cover for this novel (the one pictured here) puts me in mind of the early readers we used to get in primary school and even the title gave me a feeling of nostalgia for the same reason. The title itself is quite interesting and it was amusing to discover ‘who’ the redhead by the side of the road was. It’s not a big secret, so I don’t feel like I’m spoiling that for you by exploring it here. Micah runs each day but he does so without wearing his glasses, which are for distance. So things coming up ahead as he’s running are often blurry. Hence, each and every day, he mistakes a faded red fire hydrant for a redhead by the side of the road. The symbolism of this exists not within the fire hydrant itself, but within the way Micah consistently mistakes it for a redhead by the side of the road every single day.

‘He momentarily mistook the hydrant for a redhead and gave his usual shake of the shoulders at how repetitious this thought was, how repetitious all his thoughts were, how they ran in a deep rut and how his entire life ran in a rut, really.’

And herein lies the beauty of this novel, the depth of meaning that runs below the surface of what might appear initially as a very simple and somewhat funny story. It’s so much more than that. It’s a story about human interaction, about acceptance and adjustment, about self-realisation in the face of not necessarily losing everything, but rather, in gaining nothing by maintaining your current routines and outlook. I have to say, this little novel is a slice of literary perfection.

‘I’m a roomful of broken hearts.’


About the Author:

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her bestselling novels include Breathing Lessons, The Accidental Tourist, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Ladder of Years, Back When We Were Grownups, A Patchwork Planet, The Amateur Marriage, Digging to America, A Spool of Blue Thread, Vinegar Girl and Clock Dance. In 1989 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons; in 1994 she was nominated by Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby as ‘the greatest novelist writing in English’; in 2012 she received the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence; and in 2015 A Spool of Blue Thread was a Sunday Times bestseller and was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize.

Redhead by the Side of the Road
Published by Penguin Random House UK – Chatto & Windus
Released 9th April 2020

26 thoughts on “Book Review: Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

      • Oh dear … a quick read that took me two weeks! I’ve been so tired that all I managed was about 10 pages a night and night was the only time I got to read. But, like you, I so enjoyed this book, as I’ve enjoyed all the Tylers I’ve read. She just nails these slightly off-centre characters that you like despite their foibles and their sometimes infuriating blindnesses. She comes up with such interesting and yet believable situations. And, like you, I like her humour. (I’ve just read the review by Jeanne, Necromancy Never Pays. She found it really depressing. I think it was due to how she was feeling re COVID at the time – which was a couple of weeks before you wrote your review.)

        BTW I’m afraid I’m the opposite of you and Micah. I like to see some result when I clean – I like to see the floor or the bench come up sparkling again. What’s the point of cleaning something that looks clean!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • A question I have failed to come up with a suitable answer for! I am getting better with the floors and less particular as time goes on which for me, given my tendencies, is only a good thing.
        Necromancy Never Pays…the titles she comes up with!
        No comparison Sue, time wise re reading this one. These are extenuating circumstances for you. As long as you enjoyed those 10 pages a night!
        Weren’t Micah’s sisters just wonderful? I love those interactions.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Theresa. Yes, I loved that big family scene in particular. I don’t have a big family like that, but still it rang so true. And I loved the Tech Hermit interactions. They were so true too. How she did it all in under 180 pages is a wonder.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I loved this book to pieces too Theresa, but after writing my first paragraph about the significance of the title and the fire hydrant, I stalled. I’m back at work again & struggling to find the time again – for anything!
    But you’ve put on a smile on face remembering this wonderful story.
    PS I also loved, loved Homesick Restaurant. It’s very intense!

    Liked by 1 person

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