A Review – Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

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 extremely irritating but he considers Cass restful to look at so he puts up with it when he’s there. But Cass has a problem; she may have to leave her apartment. It never occurs to Micah that she would like to move in with him and this causes a 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 back 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, humourous, and delicious. When Micah meets his old girlfriend, he says:

‘ . . . she was 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. And one final quote – I can’t leave it out:

“I’m a roomful of broken hearts.”

The pacing was perfect and the ending just as it should be.

I am very happy to give Redhead by the Side of the Road 5 stars. *****

A Review | The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor

The plot of this novel revolves around four young boys and a girl, who – eventually – find a dismembered body in the woods. The story moves backwards and forwards between then and now. Eddie, the main character grows into early middle age, single, lonely, and too fond of the bottle. He has never forgotten that awful time and still tries to make sense of it all.

The narrative drive at the beginning is so strong I couldn’t stop reading but as I continued I found myself waiting for the story to get to the point. It seemed to meander all over the place. For me, the book had no structure, no shape, no core, no coherent skeleton. Some parts were undeveloped; some characters were so vague and indistinct they were hardly there at all. One of the main characters, Eddie’s teacher, Mr Halloran, was enjoyable and interesting to read about but I almost feel the book could have been written without him.

In general, I found the book very disappointing as I love a good thriller, and it began so well. But to end on a positive note, I liked the characters (and their nicknames) and the writing was very good and kept me reading to the end. Here are two quotes from a nightmare Eddie was having:

“Something has woken me. No. Correction. Something has wrenched me into wakefulness. I stare around the room. Empty, except no room is ever empty, not in the darkness. Shadows lurk in the corners and pool on the floor, slumbering, sometimes shifting. But that’s not what woke me. It’s the feeling that someone, just seconds ago, was sitting on my bed.”

“The first pile of leaves bursts open and a pale hand claws at the air . . . I stifle a cry. From another pile, a foot emerges and hops out, pink painted toes flexing. A leg shuffles forward on a bloody stump and, finally, the largest pile of leaves erupts and a slim, toned torso rolls out and starts to push itself across the ground like some hideous human caterpillar!”

The entire nightmare takes up a couple of pages and I was truly frightened by it. I enjoyed the book on a lot of levels and I think I would read this author again.

MELANIE

Tinted warm by rose and amber light

Melanie smiles and pouts her painted mouth

Exotic spider, webbed in scarlet silk

She wears the face of Venus, Helen, Circe

Drawing one-hour lovers to extol her grace

And wit. She lends her body, listens, comforts

Promises a paradise of lust

The door lets in the shocking light of day

Melanie leaves, her pockets full of gold

Her eyes are clean and cold and bold

And know the sorrows of the world.

Today’s Ulster Poet – Séamus Heaney.

This is the last Ulster Poet post and it’s the best of all.

POSTSCRIPT

And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,

In September or October, when the wind

And light are working off each other

So that the ocean on one side is wild

With foam and glitter, and inland among stones

The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit

By the earthed lightening of a flock of swans,

Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,

Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads

Tucked or cresting or busy under water.

Useless to think you’ll park and capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson: the reason why . . .

This is one of my favourite books; I’ve read it twice and am about to begin again. I was looking through the introduction and it was so interesting to read about what started him thinking . . .

” . . . I grew up convinced that science was supremely dull, but suspecting that it needn’t be, and not really thinking about it at all if I could help it. This, too, became my position for a long time.

Then, much later – about four or five years ago, I suppose – I was on a long flight across the Pacific, staring idly out the window at a moonlit ocean, when it occurred to me with a certain uncomfortable forcefulness that I didn’t know the first thing about the only planet I was ever going to live on. I had no idea, for example, why the oceans were salty but the Great Lakes weren’t. Didn’t have the faintest idea. I didn’t know if the oceans were growing more salty with time or less, And whether the oceans salinity level was something I should be concerned about or not. (I am very pleased to tell you that until the late 1970s scientists didn’t know the answers to these questions either. They just didn’t talk about it very audibly.)

And ocean salinity, of course, represented only the merest sliver of my ignorance. I didn’t know what a proton was, or a protein, didn’t know a quark from a quasar, didn’t understand how geologists could look at a layer of rock on a canyon wall and tell you how old it was – didn’t know anything, really. I became gripped by a quiet, unwonted but insistent urge to know a little about these matters and to understand above all how people figured them out. That to me remained the greatest of all amazements – how scientists work things out. How does anybody know how much the Earth weighs or how old its rocks are or what really is way down there in the centre? How can they know how and when the universe started and what it was like when it did? How do they know what goes on inside an atom? And how, come to that – or perhaps above all, on reflection – can scientists so often seem to know nearly everything but then still not be able to predict an earthquake or even tell us whether we should take an umbrella with us to the races next Wednesday?

So I decided that I would devote a portion of my life – three years as it now turns out – to reading books and journals and finding saintly, patient experts prepared to answer a lot of outstandingly dumb questions. The idea was to see if it isn’t possible to understand and appreciate – marvel at, enjoy even – the wonder and accomplishments of science at a level that isn’t too technical or demanding, but isn’t entirely superficial either.

That was my idea and my hope, and that is what the book that follows is intended to do.”

The scientific mind fascinates me; what could it be like to have a mind like that? I watch every show about the universe that comes on the television, every show about the earth and its inhabitants. You know when the programme shows a blackboard covered with numbers and symbols and it makes perfect sense to the scientist? I smile ruefully. I understand very little but am always drawn to them anyway. I shall begin the book – again – straight away.