‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’ by Anne Tyler – Back to Baltimore

 

‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’ by Anne Tyler (2020) – 192 pages

In a review of Anne Tyler’s early novel ‘Searching for Caleb’ for the New Yorker in 1975, John Updike wrote “Funny and lyric and true, exquisite in its details and ambitious in its design…This writer is not merely good, she is wickedly good.” Updike took an interest in Tyler’s work and reviewed her next four novels as well, thus launching Tyler’s career into the stratosphere where she has remained since then. The English novelist Nick Hornby has stated that his ambition was to be a male Anne Tyler.

I have read nearly every one of Anne Tyler’s twenty-three novels, even the first four which she doesn’t like anymore but which I thought were very good. All of her novels take place in Baltimore, and that city has Anne Tyler bus tours for tourists except during the lock down. Tyler’s subject has always been the inexplicable personal mysteries in our ordinary routine day-to-day lives. She finds the fascination in even the most mundane of lives. Her novels of ordinary people connect with us readers on a visceral level.

However…

Micah Mortimer in ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’ is still another of Anne Tyler’s gentle, cautious, fastidious male characters who view women, especially women with whom they might have a close relationship, as disruptive and a source of problems and thus trouble. He is in his forties and has never been married. In many ways Micah is the archetype for most of the males that appear in Tyler’s novels. He is seemingly happy with his life in his small apartment which he keeps fussily clean. Micah is a home computer software guy who runs his own small door-to-door business in Baltimore. He has a girlfriend Cass who is a school teacher.

Tyler starts the novel with these lines about Micah:

“You have to wonder what goes through the mind of a man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.”

Etched in stone? That was the problem for me. Anne Tyler has used this same type of male character in so many of her novels, it’s almost like she etches them in stone. These quiet, finicky, mild guys have become almost a formula for Tyler. The novel had somewhat of a “been there, done that” feel for me. This guy Micah seemed like nearly every other male character who has ever shown up in an Anne Tyler novel.

I suppose I would have been bowled over by ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’ if I had not read so much Anne Tyler before.

 

Grade:    B

 

 

3 responses to this post.

  1. Aww, Tyler ruined by her own success!
    (Hastily reading this between sessions of the Yarra Valley Lit fest!)

    Like

    Reply

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