Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

‘What was that little redhead doing by the side of the road?’

On the surface, this is a novel about a man who has established a quite rigid routine as his way of navigating life.   Micah Mortimer, aged 44, is the maintenance superintendent of the block of flats where he lives in Baltimore.  He has a business providing IT support as the ‘Tech Hermit’, he runs each morning (at 07:15 am) and he has a well-defined cleaning regime.  Micah takes life literally and steadily, and so his life might have been lived in its entirety until events forced change.

‘He hated it when women expected you to read their minds.’

Micah has a woman friend, Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in their late thirties a ‘girlfriend’).  How is Micah supposed to react when she tells him that she is facing eviction because of her cat?  He hardly has time to process this when a teenage boy, Brink Bartell Adams, turns up claiming to be his son. 

This is a beautifully realised, low key story about people and relationships. Micah knows he is not Brink’s father but feels responsible for trying to reunite Brink and his mother.  In the meantime, he and Cassia break up.

‘Sometimes when he was dealing with people, he felt he was operating one of those claw machines on a boardwalk, those shovel things where you tried to scoop up a prize but the controls were too unwieldy and you worked at too great a remove.’

Through the description of Micah’s routine, the chaos of his dinner with his extended family, his efforts to understand why Cassia is disappointed, his carefully ordered routines and his interactions with others a clear picture of Micah emerges.  But he is more complex than he appears.  Will the future be different?

‘The only place I went wrong, he writes, was expecting things to be perfect.’

I really enjoyed this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith