Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Here is another writer who takes everyday difficulties seriously. (The ‘other’ is Kent Haruf, recently reviewed on the blog). Typically her main character is socially inept in some way, but has carved out a life in which they manage. Her novels are concerned with what happens when their world is challenged. Who can forget Macon in The Accidental Tourist, trying to deal with grief and being forced into a wider set of social interactions? Or his family of grown up siblings who store their groceries alphabetically: elbow macaroni belonging in a different place on the shelf to noodles or ordinary macaroni! Wonderful!

She is kind to her characters, affectionate even while providing a little amusement at their expense. This is as true for Micah Mortimer as it is for Macon Leary.

Redhead by the Side of the Road

Micah Mortimer lives in Baltimore, working as a janitor and he also provides computer services. He lives alone having had a small number of failed relationships. He is a man of routine, but also of kindness, but with no insight into the impression he makes on others. The title refers to what he glimpses every day on his daily run, which quickly resolves into a fire hydrant. The novel begins when his latest woman friend, Cass, tells him that she may be made homeless. She gives up on him when his response is not what she wanted.

Anne Tyler is at her most perceptive when she observes the young man who turns up after an argument at home. Brink claims, even hopes, that Micah might be his father as his mother was Micah’s first girlfriend. The youth seems to have no plans beyond finding Micah, who is able to say categorically that he is not Brink’s father. Her description of this awkward youth is very apt and illustrates his inability to deal with the problems he has caused.

Meanwhile Micah’s large family are dismayed at Cass’s departure. He also finds it hard to understand why she left. And he is not sure what to do about Brink when the boy first runs away and then returns. But he does the right thing and manages to reunite Brink with his mother and stepfather. The occasion helps him to gain some insight into how other people see him when his ex-girlfriend explains a thing or two.

Between scenes that move the plot on we follow Micah to his various jobs, see other isolated and incompetent people. There are some rich cameos and typical computer problems which allows us to see that Micah is a thoughtful man and a good problem-solver when is dealing with technical things. But personal problems seem beyond him until he helps resolve Brink’s problems and going in search of Cass.

Micah makes it through with affectionate support from his family and some understanding he gains from the episode with Brink.  Life goes on. Its upsets are not great. Her main characters have some kind of flaw which enables one to view them sympathetically. In fact one may even identify a little with these people.

Anne Tyler’s novels on my bookshelves

Related posts

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler, published in 2020. I read the paperback from Vintage 178pp

Longlisted for Booker Prize 2020


Filed under Books, Reading, Reviews

4 Responses to Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

  1. Marianne Coleman

    Hi Caroline

    I am a fan of both Anne Tyler and Kent Haruf. Both are such good observers of everyday life and often everyday kindnesses. What I love about Redhead at the Side of the Road is the gentle humour. For example the well observed scene of the family gathering where Micah’s sisters are described as ‘born waitresses’. They are kindly, energetic, loving and thrive on the business of catering to people’s needs, whilst also living in a certain amount of chaos. I also loved how the introverted Micah imagines the ‘traffic gods’ commenting on his immaculate traffic skills and manners as he drives, and how he adopts a non-specific but slightly exotic European accent as he talks to himself whilst cooking.

    • Caroline

      I think I heard you mention that you had read this recently. You have picked out some of the very human characteristics that she gives Micah and his sisters. So he does not appear completely inept she has given him some very attractive quirks.Thanks for picking these out.
      Caroline x.

  2. Carole Jones

    I’m a long-time member of ‘Kingsbridge Library Reading Group’ and we read Ann Tyler’s: ‘ A Spool of Blue Thread’ several years ago. Overall, the group thought it a ‘good read’: well-plotted, nuanced … and vastly informative about a particular strand of US, small town and complex family life. Most of us found Tyler’s ability to be within – and perfectly convey – the lives, minds and general beliefs, restrictions and complexes of the individual characters … yet while not losing track of the importance and ‘ever-present-ness’ of family-life, small town restrictions and constrictions … as well as showing all the lures beyond all this … to be superb. However, I recall that we found so much that was bleak and sad – despite all the love and the positives – that some found it too depressing.

    • Caroline

      I have never found Anne Tyler’s novels to be bleak overall. There is bleakness in them, as in everyday life, but her characters are redeemed or reclaimed with affection from others. She pulls no punches on the hardness of life, for everyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *