Goodness me, I’ve delayed writing this review because it’s the last one in my Anne Tyler 2021 project – I’m not sure when my review copy of her newest book will arrive but I will read and review it as straight away as I’m allowed to and add it to the project page. I will try to write up a musing on the whole project on the 20th, so this is just my reactions to “Redhead by the Side of the Road”.

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too. Oh, and I DID share my new project and its project page on my State of the TBR December post (at the end) – anyone up for that one who hasn’t replied already?

Anne Tyler – “Redhead by the Side of the Road”

(01 April 2021)

“Sometimes when he was dealing with people, he felt like he was operating one of those claw machines on a boardwalk, those shovel things where you tried to scoop up a prize but the controls were too unwieldy and you worked at too great a remove.” (p. 151)

Micah lives alone, running a computer first aid kind of company on his own. He has his routines and his girlfriend, who he fell for for her kindness but with whom he has settled into a Tyleresque rut. When a young man turns up on his doorstep, there are some unintended consequences, but it’s really small ripples in the pond of his life, and he mishandles the situation, not for the first time. Will Micah’s life ever actually change? Are we set on a course we can’t escape when we leave home and become ourselves?

First off, this is a small book. It’s only 178 pages long and actually has five blank leaves in the back of the book to pad it out! That made me sad, as I tend to enjoy her more substantial ones best (I loved “Clock Dance” last month for example). Some people whose reviews I’ve read have complained about the “redhead” not being an actual person, but that wasn’t a problem for me – I liked how we followed Micah on his runs and experienced his mis-reading of the street furniture every time (although why does she have him running in jeans or jean shorts? No every-morning runner would wear those).

It did seem like a bit of a best-of, with those themes we’re so familiar with – man living alone with his routines; big family with one member different and large, chaotic gatherings in a cluttered house; slightly odd jobs; sparsely furnished basement rooms; the son of the family of whom things were expected; the teen who comes to stay; the (same) teen who has run away from home; interacting with older folk; the contrast between the fussy people and the lax people; the overhearings of other people who could make up a Tyler book of their own.

Then there were echoes of other books in particular – Brink has decided to “take a break” from college and go back home, like Ben Joe in “If Morning Ever Comes” and there’s a funny niche local publishing company which has put out Micah’s book, like the ones in “The Accidental Tourist” and “The Beginner’s Goodbye”. Differences include the weird feeling of zooming out from Micah’s perspective a couple of times to see him from a more omniscient narrator viewpoint, moving around his world and seeming really sad and pathetic. There’s also the weird, depressing extended scene in ch 5 where Micah wonders how long it would take him to notice if a nuclear bomb had dropped on the neighbourhood and extinguished all life apart from his. This ties in with my feeling of a link with “Noah’s Compass” as, although there is some sort of redemption at the end (or is it just care for someone who’s had an incident?) it seems like Micah will end up alone, rattling around in his basement flat.

You have to wonder what goes through the mind of such a man. Such a narrow and limited man; so closed off. He has nothing to look forward to, nothing to daydream about. (p. 167)

The authorial voice intruding here feels so final, so dismissive of a character who’s long been a stock person in her novels. I am afraid I was left at best flat after reading this, at worst, a little depressed. I’m going to go off and read all the reviews of this I saved when it came out but I was reserving it for this month and the end of my project.

Have you read this one? What did you think? And are you joining my new challenge for 2022?