With most people stuck in their houses, now seems like an ideal time to do some reading. Luckily for me, one of my favourite authors published a new novel at the beginning of April. As it turns out, Anne Tyler’s lovely and human Redhead by the Side of The Road is the perfect quarantine read.
For the uninitiated, Anne Tyler is among the best living American novelists. Publishing for over 50 years, Tyler has been celebrated for her detailed chronicles of large families, marriages and often eccentric characters. Her 1988 novel Breathing Lessons won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Tyler’s novels all pretty much follow a familiar pattern; a character who feels trapped by routine gets jolted out of said routine by occurrences sometimes comical and sometimes violent, and then either makes changes to their life or comes to view it through new eyes. The vast majority of her novels are also set in Baltimore, Maryland, the city in which Tyler lives.
Redhead by the Side of the Road marks no deviation from this formula.
Our protagonist is Micah Mortimer, who runs a tech support business and is the super of a building in which he lives in the basement apartment. He has played a more passive role in his own life than he would have liked to and the surprise appearance of a teenager who suspects Micah may be his father prompts a reconsideration of the way he lives.
Micah is a classic Tyler creation; cautious, organised, more than a little odd. By now, Tyler is an expert at handling this kind of character transformation, with this latest novel slimmed down to just the essentials.
If you have never read a Tyler novel before, perhaps you should start with one that is a bit more substantial, like the terrific and moving The Accidental Tourist.
Reading a novel of hers allows me to experience those quotidian tasks and drab routines that I suddenly found myself longing for ever since quarantine began.
“I am very interested in things that seem humdrum sometimes and how there are things underneath them that mean more,” Tyler recently told the BBC.
By capturing the small details of a life, she honours its ordinariness. And doesn’t ordinary sound pretty good right about now?