REDHEAD BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD
BY ANNE TYLER
The assumption would be that ordinary people aren’t interesting, but Anne Tyler keeps us wonderfully absorbed with this short but thoroughly enjoyable tale about just that. The Den loved the way you warm towards this middle-aged man with his monotonous and uneventful existence whose life is suddenly thrown off course. 'Redhead by the Side of the Road' was longlisted for the Booker 2020 - time for you and your book club to catch up on this Missed Opportunity.
Micah is in his forties, leading an unexceptional life as a computer fixer who is obsessed with routine and order. The youngest of a large family, his 4 sisters are all waitresses with chaotic and busy existences. Micah had been the one they hoped would break the mould and do something aspirational. Yet these expectations appear to have been unfulfilled as Micah settles for a dependable and comfortable life. When Cass, his woman friend (he refused to call anyone in her late thirties a “girlfriend”) is threatened with eviction, he fails to seize the moment. An unexpected visitor destabilises his equilibrium further. None of these incidents are life changing events, but they are disruptions which arouse and awaken Micah.
Tyler’s ability to make us so invested in Micah and his humdrum life is breath-taking. The Den couldn’t but help feel for this awkward misfit with his blinkered outlook. The fact his family love him unconditionally, means we also root for him, as it becomes apparent, he does care, he just doesn’t seem able to get it right!
Anne Tyler is a master at writing with such empathy about people living unexceptional lives and in Micah, she allows us to be drawn into his mind and soul with a heart-warming humanity. Given we have all been trapped in our own limited and insular family bubbles this novel provides lots of relevant topics for discussion.