Anne Tyler writes about the extraordinary in the ordinary. “Redhead by the Side of the Road” is a beautiful example of her prototypical story telling.
Micah Mortimer is in his early forties and his life is just sort of slipping along. “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.” Micah’s routine includes an early morning run, shower, breakfast, cleaning and work. His apartment is immaculate and he is very disciplined in his cleaning regimen.
Micah operates “Tech Hermit”, traveling to people’s homes and businesses to help with computer issues. He is the author of a tech guide called “First, Plug It In.” He also functions as the super of his apartment building, where Micah’s apartment is in the basement. “Does he ever stop to consider his life? The meaning of it, the point? Does it trouble him to think that he will probably spend his next thirty or forty years this way?”
Micah has a girlfriend, Cass, who teaches fourth grade. They have a nice routine together until Cass starts to fear the possibility of being evicted from her apartment. Micah suggests she could live in her car and things go downhill from there.
Micah has had other girlfriends in the past but something has always gone wrong. Micah is reminded of his college girlfriend Lorna Bartell when her son, Brink Bartell Adams, suddenly shows up at his apartment. Brink is convinced that Micah is his father, which as it turns out is not possible. Brink, a college freshman, is having some issues and has disappeared from school and his family, causing his parents no end of concern. Suddenly Lorna, and her husband Roger, enter Micah’s life. Lorna’s recollection of their college relationship adds some clarity to Micah’s relationship perspective.
Micah runs every morning, and despite his progressively deteriorating vision, does not wear glasses. He notices that inanimate objects always appear as humans to him. “On the homeward stretch this morning, he made his usual mistake of imagining for a second that a certain fire hydrant, faded to the pinkish color of an aged flowerpot, was a child or a very short grown-up…What was that little redhead doing by the side of the road.” We are all myopic in the way we see things in our lives!
Micah comes from a large family and has four sisters, all of whom are waitresses. His family is loud and boisterous and intrusive. There are a couple of enjoyable scenes of family interactions.
Interspersed throughout the novel are visits to computer clients and their various issues, as well as visits to the apartments of residents needing repairs. Through all these visits the reader gets more insights into Micah.
At the end, when the Brink issues have resolved, his family is quiet and he and Cass have broken up, Micah is back where he began at the beginning of the novel. “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.” And yet, happily, this is not quite the end of Micah’s story. Because as ordinary as his life might seem, it is in fact extraordinary.
I am a huge Anne Tyler fan. Some novels are better than others, but I loved this one. As always, her characters seem simple but they are not; their lives seem ordinary but they are not; and their relationships seem shallow, but they are not. This is a good one! You can reserve it at Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.