I haven’t read any reviews of this book but I’m looking forward to doing that as soon as I have posted this. I’ve never really been a fan of Anne Tyler’s but I loved this book and I will read it again sometime.
The first and last sections pose a question:
‘You have to wonder what goes through the mind of man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.’
I expected a boring, colourless man with no joy in his life, no excitements, nothing unexpected, doing the same things at the same time every day. But I fell in love with Micah Mortimer when, a few pages in, I read that he spoke aloud to himself – in what he thought of as a foreign accent – while he did his chores about the house. Monday was the day for mopping the floor:
‘”Zee dreaded moppink,” he said. “Zee moppink of zee floors.”‘
This delighted me; I was on his side forever; I loved him. Next, we find out about the “traffic gods” – these supreme beings whom he imagines watching him when he’s driving, commenting to each other in tones of awe at the perfection of his moves:
‘”Flawless,” traffic god murmured.’
I’m beginning to appreciate now that Micah is not a dull, blank, robotic man and when a young lad appears at his door claiming that he’s actually Micah’s son, he becomes even more interesting. (Not only does he have a present, but maybe a past too!) Instead of turning Brink away he brings him in and feeds him and lets him stay for a few days.
Enter Cass, Micah’s long-term woman friend; a tall buxom woman; a school-teacher. She plays music all the time in her apartment; the television talks all evening whether they are watching it or not. Micah finds it irritating but he considers Cass restful to look at so he puts up with it when he’s there. Now Cass has a problem; she may have to leave her apartment. It never ocurs to Micah that she’s waiting for him to invite her to move in with him and this causes a – mostly unspoken – breach between them.
‘”In fact,” Cass said steadily, “what did you do? Quick-quick invite the nearest stranger into your spare room.”‘
And of course, there’s his wonderful four sisters and their families, boisterous, happy, loving, interested in everything that happens to Micah; they know Cass well and like her very much. Micah tolerates and loves them equally.
I thought about Micah a lot; he’s very self-sufficient, content to live alone, kindly when anyone asks for help but always at a distance – until Cass suggests a break-up:
‘”Something hit him in the concave place just below his rib cage.”‘
I found the writing warm and humourous, and delicious – when Micah meets his old girlfriend:
‘” . . . she ws so sharp-edged, both literally and figuratively – a small, vivacious mosquito of a girl, all elbows and darting movements.”‘
It’s the word – mosquito – that makes that sentence for me. The pacing was perfect and the ending just as it should be. I should refer to the redhead of the title – a fire hydrant Micah always thought was a person when he caught a glimpse of it, although he knew it was not. To me, it just meant that Micah had imagination but perhaps there is a deeper, hidden meaning to it. I don’t know.
Hidden meaning or not, I give Redhead by the Side of the Road 5 stars. *****