Anne Tyler is one of my favourite writers, so elegantly understated, so spot-on with her characters. Her latest Redhead by the Side of the Road is slim, at 180 pages, but a delight. Why? Because she writes about what it is like to be human, the everyday things, the ticks, the habits, the way we are and the subtle ways we change.
Hers are not plot-driven page-turning books, they are thoughtful portraits of people who seem to be like us – they chop vegetables and mop the kitchen floor, like Micah Mortimer, an unmarried 44 year old self-employed IT specialist and janitor of his apartment block. His family teases him about his finicky household habits and he accepts the teasing with good grace. He is infinitely patient with his elderly clients, going round to reboot computers and routers. No scene is wasted in this novella. I particularly loved Micah’s visit to new client Rosalie Hayes who has inherited a house, and computer, from her grandmother. Rosalie cannot find her grandmother’s passwords and is tearing her hair out. This is how we see Micah’s world, through his interactions with neighbours, family, clients, girlfriend Cass and a stranger who turns up on his doorstep – the student son of Micah’s old college girlfriend. Brink’s arrival precipitates change.
Because we see and come to understand Micah’s thought processes, we see how he misunderstands Cass and fails to say the right thing. And we see him find the right thing to say to student Brink who knocks on Micah’s door under a misapprehension and stays because of a problem he cannot express. It is Micah’s gentle nature which finally reveals Brink’s difficulties. Anne Tyler is brilliant at creating characters who, whether you love them or hate them, make you want to read about their story.
A definite 5*. A book you will read and enjoy, wanting to get to the end while at the same time wishing it would last longer.
BUY THE BOOK
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