Only The Lonely:
Anne Tyler’s last two books, Vinegar Girl and Clock Dance were mildly disappointing, but she is back to her A Spool Of Blue Thread form with the intriguingly titled Redhead By The Side Of The Road.
The slim novel is about the placid life of 43-year-old Micah Mortimer being churned by the unexpected arrival of a kid. Micah is at the stage of life when there are no expectations left, so no complications either. He has his own one-man computer repair business called Tech Hermit, and works as a handyman in a building, in return for a rent-free basement apartment. He keeps it spotlessly clean, with an almost OCD-ish strict schedule of cleaning. He has no friends except a lady friend, school teacher Cassie Slade, he occasionally meets, but they live apart.
In contrast to his austere life, there is the noisy clan of his three sisters, who believe Micah did not live up to his potential. When he reluctantly visits for a family celebration, he goes through some gentle ribbing about his boring existence.
Micah is not unhappy, however, and Tyler does not condescend to portray her protagonist as a loser-loner. He is what he is, and it’s nobody else’s business—not even his affectionate sisters and their husbands can change him.
He is admirably self-contained, speaking in a French accent when he cooks and communicating with traffic gods when he drives perfectly.
Then, one day, the son of his college girlfriend lands up, in the mistaken belief that Micah is his real father. Micah is forced to feed and shelter him, till his family issues are sorted, which brings the now happily married ex and her husband into his life. Cassie decides to break-up at around the same time, and it’s more drama Micah has had in his whole life!
As Tyler puts it, “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.”
The book, is poignant, funny and understated. Micah is a remarkable character, fully-realised, yet somehow incomplete—the mysterious ‘Redhead’ personifies his vivid imagination as well as his ability to delude himself. But Tyler is not cruel to Micah, when he sets out on his daily run, he does eventually reach where he needs to be. And the reader simultaneously holds a smile and tear, while putting the book down, hoping for a sequel.
Redhead By The Side Of The Road
By Anne Tyler