Redhead By the Side of the Road

Anne Tyler’s quirky characters always resonate with me, from the annoying travel writer in The Accidental Tourist to meddling Maggie in Breathing Lessons. Her setting in  Redhead By the Side of the Road is once again Baltimore, and again she has family as the fulcrum for examining the life of her hero.

Micah Mortimer is a forty something bachelor who manages an old apartment house for the free rent in the basement, and dabbles in computer repair with his small company Tech Hermit.  Micah has a structured and organized life, bordering on obsessive – the kind of guy who must have all the pencils sharpened and lined up, if he used them, and has a schedule for cleaning, eating, waking up, and most of his life.  Although he has had girlfriends, Cass, an elementary school teacher, is the latest he has lost, and he is befuddled by what he did to make her leave him.

Brink, a young freshman in college, and the son of Micah’s first love, appears suddenly at his doorstep.  Brink is running away allegedly looking for his birth father, but the real reasons surfaces later.  Micah gives the boy coffee and a place to sleep for one night, assuring Brink he could not be his father (he never slept with his mother), and then sends him away when the boy refuses to call his mother to reassure her.  Eventually, Brink confesses and reunites with his family, but not before he ruffles old memories in Micah.

The redhead at the side of the road makes an appearance only twice in the story, and both times this reader wonders if it is symbolic of Micah getting older with his eyesight starting to fail, or some manifestation of his own deperate life – the redhead appears to be sitting, huddled with her head down and clasping her knees.  The first time the redhead appeared, I laughed out loud when Tyler revealed the true identity.  The second time, I wondered if his not seeing clearly said something about his relationships.

Through a series of incidents with his family – all older sisters and broods; with Lorna, Brinks’s mother; and with a funny assortment of customers needing help with their computers, Micah reevaluates his life and comes to a moment of awakening.  The ending reveals his vulnerability and offers hope for better connections with human nature. Tyler wryly reaffirms it’s always a good time to change your life.

This might be the best time to read Tyler’s story, not only for Tyler’s subtle humor but also for her message.   When all of us are experiencing our routines being changed through circumstances we cannot control, reading about a man whose life seemed happy with his ordinary regimen and suddenly has to adjust to outside forces is relatable.  It’s comforting to know he not only survived but life got better – eventually.

Related Review: https://thenochargebookbunch.com/2016/06/21/vinegar-girl-by-anne-tyler/

 

New Books to Read in 2020

Some of my favorite authors have new books this year:

  1. Sophie Hannah – Perfect Little Children
  2. Chris Bohjalian – The Red Lotus
  3. Hilary Mantel – The Mirror and the Light
  4. Donna Leon – Trace Elements
  5. Carol Goodman – The Sea of Lost Girls
  6. Anne Tyler – The Redhead by the Side of the Road
  7. Isabel Allende – A Long Petal in the Sea
  8. Lisa Gardner – When You See Me

 

  1. Sophie Hannah (Author of The Nightingale and How to Hold a Grudge) has a new suspense mystery coming in February – Perfect Little Children:

” Beth hasn’t seen Flora for twelve years. She doesn’t want to see her today—or ever again. But she can’t resist. She parks outside the open gates of Newnham House, watches from across the road as Flora arrives and calls to her children Thomas and Emily to get out of the car.

There’s something terribly wrong. Flora looks the same, only older. Twelve years ago, Thomas and Emily were five and three years old. Today, they look precisely as they did then. They are Thomas and Emily without a doubt, but they haven’t changed at all. They are no taller, no older. Why haven’t they grown? How is it possible that they haven’t grown up?”

 

2. If you need more suspense, Chris Bohjalian (The Flight Attendant) has The Red Lotus coming in March:

” an American man vanishes on a rural road in Vietnam, and his girlfriend, an emergency room doctor trained to ask questions, follows a path that leads her home to the very hospital where they met.”

3. For fans of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel is finally delivering the third book in the trilogy in March – The Mirror and the Light:

“With The Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision.”

4. Need a taste of Italy?  Donna Leon returns with a new Guido Brunetti mystery in Trace Elements, March 2020:

“When a dying hospice patient gasps that her husband was murdered over “bad money,” Commissario Brunetti softly promises he and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, will look into what initially appears to be a private family tragedy. They discover that the man had worked in the field, collecting samples of contamination for a company that measures the cleanliness of Venice’s water supply, and that he had recently died in a mysterious motorcycle accident. Piecing together the tangled threads, Brunetti comes to realize the perilous meaning in the woman’s accusation and the threat it reveals to the health of the entire region. But justice in this case proves to be ambiguous, as Brunetti is reminded it can be when he reads Aeschylus’s classic play The Eumenides.”

5. Carol Goodman (The Lake of Dead Languages) has a new romantic mystery coming in March – The Sea of Lost Girls:

“Tess has worked hard to keep her past buried, where it belongs. Now she’s the wife to a respected professor at an elite boarding school, where she also teaches. Her seventeen-year-old son, Rudy, whose dark moods and complicated behavior she’s long worried about, seems to be thriving: he has a lead role in the school play and a smart and ambitious girlfriend. Tess tries not to think about the mistakes she made eighteen years ago, and mostly, she succeeds.

And then one more morning she gets a text at 2:50 AM: it’s Rudy, asking for help. When Tess picks him up she finds him drenched and shivering, with a dark stain on his sweatshirt. Four hours later, Tess gets a phone call from the Haywood school headmistress: Lila Zeller, Rudy’s girlfriend, has been found dead on the beach, not far from where Tess found Rudy just hours before. The more Tess learns about Haywood’s fabled history, the more she realizes that not all skeletons will stay safely locked in the closet.

6. And Anne Tyler, one of my favorite authors, has a new book in April: The Redhead by the Side of the Road:

“about misperception, second chances, and the sometimes elusive power of human connection…”

Can’t Wait?  These are coming in January:

7. Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal in the Sea

“From the New York Times bestselling author of The House of the Spirits, this epic novel spanning decades and crossing continents follows two young people as they flee the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in search of a place.”

8. Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me

Detective D. D. Warren, Flora Dane, and Kimberly Quincy—in a twisty new thriller, as they investigate a mysterious murder from the past…which points to a dangerous and chilling present-day crime.”

 

Clock Dance

9780525521228Anne Tyler has once again made an extraordinary story out of ordinary lives in Clock Dance. Set in her favorite city of Baltimore, the story moves through decades of a typical family – until a phone call for help changes everything.

Tyler has the talent for making her characters relatable. It’s hard not to identify with the ftizzy haired little girl who dutifully does what she is told, and who becomes the woman who follows her husband – not once but twice. Perhaps the first time is for love, despite the pull to pursue her own talents, but the second time seems complacent and secure.

The story follows Willa as a child living with a mercurial mother who periodically abandons the family and a meek but reliable father, then jumps ten yesrs to Willa as a junior in college, in love with handsome and self- centered Derek. “It was tempting,” she thinks, “to consider the adventurousness of throwing everything over to marry Derek” – and she does, forsaking her own dreams.

In twenty yesrs, Willa has become a widow with two grown sons and an estranged sister. Life is not hard but certainly  not interesting as she follows her widowed father’s advice to live moment by moment.   The story jumps again to 2017. Willa has remarried another self-centered, patronizing clone, Peter, and settled into a golfing community in Arizona. Willa doesn’t play golf.

When Willa gets a phone call asking her to fly from Arizona to Baltimore to care for the nine year old daughter of her oldest son’s former girlfriend, whom she’s never met, the pull to be needed is too irresistible. Nevermind the girlfriend snd her daughter are no real relation to her; she goes.

In Baltimore the cast of characters expands to a gritty chorus, offering Willa another chance at having a family, and forcing her to become the person she was meant to be.

Perhaps the ending is predictable, knowing Tyler’s affinity for second chances and redemption, but it is nonetheless satsfying. Fans of Tyler’s writing will recognize her signature talent for instilling insight and humor into everyday living, and her message is clear – we don’t have to settle for other’s expectations of us; we can take a leap into life and dance – no matter what time in our lives it is.

Liane Moriarty Recommends Books

imagesIn her interview for the New York Times “By the Book,” author Liane Moriarty identifies a few of her favorites:

  1. Kansas in August by Patrick Gale
  2. The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
  3. The Dry by Jane Harper
  4. The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
  5. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
  6. Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

Only the last two are in my library system, so I am starting with them.

I share Moriarty’s admiration of author Anne Tyler.  When Moriarty was asked which author she would want to write her life story, she answered:

“Anne Tyler, please, because she would make my ordinary life extraordinary and my flaws adorable, and she’d find some beautiful truth that I would only recognize once she pointed it out to me.”

Related Reviews:  

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

9780451498083_p0_v1_s192x300    Anne Tyler delivers another quirky romance in Vinegar Girl in her delightful twist on The Taming of the Shrew published by Hogarth Shakespeare as one of a series of novels based on the major plays.

In Tyler’s version, fiery Kate lives at home with her father, an absent-minded scientist at Johns Hopkins on the verge of an important discovery for autoimmune disorders. Her sister, Bunny, a scatterbrained teenager more interested in boys than books plays the beautiful Bianca.  Their mother died long ago, and Kate has the responsibility of the Baltimore household, organized by her father’s hilarious system to maximize efficiency. Homemade meals consists of  a scientific formula of  “beans, green vegetables, potatoes and stewed beef pureed into a grayish sort of paste to be served through the week.”

Kate has the reputation of her model from Shakespeare, yet Tyler softens her attitude with common sense – but missing any traits of diplomacy.  She drops out of college because she calls out her botany professor when he botches a lecture on photosynthesis, and she blithely refuses to falsely flatter a pre-schooler where she is an assistant to the elderly teacher, when the drawing is no good, much to the dismay of the head teacher and the parent.

Pyotr Shcherbakov plays Petruchio; in this story he is a brilliant yet blunt spoken scientist from foreign lands and assistant to Kate’s father; he is about to be deported unless he can change his legal status.  Kate’s father concocts a scheme to have Kate marry Pyotr to secure the ongoing research, and surprisingly, Kate agrees.

The twists and turns involve a vegan boyfriend, research mice, a gaggle of intolerant relatives and friends – even a guitar playing granola boy as a foil for Kate’s affections. Although the story is predictable, Tyler infuses an element of suspense to the upcoming marriage, with the possibility of its not taking place.  Of course, all’s well that ends well, and Tyler happily includes an epilogue, fast-forwarding ten years beyond to note how successful and happily ever after their lives continue.

Anne Tyler can’t write fast enough for me.  I read Vinegar Girl as soon as I could get it and polished it off with relish in an afternoon.  Kate is my favorite character from Shakespeare; it’s hard not to identify with her forthright opinions, her independence, and her cranky moods.  She is often misunderstood, masking her vulnerability in stubbornness but Anne Tyler captures her innate goodness and strength in her modern adaptation, and has Petruchio love Kate for who she is – no taming needed.

Reviews of other Anne Tyler Books: