Saturday, May 23, 2020

Redhead by the Side of the Road - Anne Tyler

I’m going to go out on a limb here and call Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road a coming-of-age novel. And it is one, if you concede the point that some people don’t manage to get that job done before reaching their fortieth birthday. Micah Mortimer is one of those people.

Micah is in his early forties now, and he still lives alone. In fact, he lives in the basement of the small apartment building he manages on the side for its out-of-state owner. In lieu of a salary, Micah lives rent-free in the basement apartment. His “real” job, the one that actually brings him in a little cash, is as a computer-problem troubleshooter for his little one-man company called Tech Hermit. Tech Hermit could not be a more appropriate name for the company – or for Micah – because it’s who he is.

The world sees Micah this way:

            “He has a girlfriend, but they seem to lead fairly separate lives. You see her heading toward his back door now and then with a sack of takeout; you see them setting forth on a weekend morning in the Kia, minus the TECH HERMIT sign. He doesn’t appear to have male friends. He is cordial to the tenants but no more than that. They call out a greeting when they meet up with him and he nods amiably and raises a hand, often not troubling to speak. Nobody knows if he has family.”

The scary part about all of this is that Micah is perfectly content to go on living exactly the same way for the next thirty or forty years. Even when his girlfriend makes it obvious  that she has had enough of the status quo, Micah is so egocentric that he doesn’t get the message. And when a teenager shows up at Micah’s front door wondering if he might just be the boy’s biological father, all Micah can think about is how his old girlfriend, the boy’s mother, suddenly dumped him the way she did all those years ago.

So it’s now or never for Micah. If he’s ever going to grow up, this may be his last best chance.

Bottom Line: Redhead by the Side of the Road is a satisfying character study of a novel centering on a not-so-young-anymore man who is still trying to find himself. He is not particularly likable, even to the reader, the way he is, so it is easy to root for an emotional awakening on his part. This Anne Tyler novel may be a relatively short one, but Micah Mortimer is a complete character – like him or not.


  1. I think Tyler excels at writing characters like Micah.

    1. You're right. Lots of her characters are people with quirky personalities who have a problem relating to other people. She always tells their individual stories very well, making each and everyone of them memorable.

  2. Micah doesn't sound terribly likable, but maybe is more typical than what we would like to believe.

  3. He's not very likable, but he is very "real." Tyler has a way of creating believable characters no matter how weird or unlikable they may be. She did it again with Micah, a guy you want to kick in the butt to get him start on living life rather than just existing in it.