Cover image for Redhead by the side of the road : a novel
Title:
Redhead by the side of the road : a novel
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9780525658412
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1st ed.
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177 pages ; 25 cm.
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Summary:
Micah Mortimer is a creature of habit. A self-employed tech expert, superintendent of his Baltimore apartment building, cautious to a fault behind the steering wheel, he seems content leading a steady, circumscribed life. But one day his routines are blown apart when his woman friend (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a "girlfriend") tells him she's facing eviction, and a teenager shows up at Micah's door claiming to be his son. These surprises, and the ways they throw Micah's meticulously organized life off-kilter, risk changing him forever. An intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who finds those around him just out of reach, and a funny, joyful, deeply compassionate story about seeing the world through new eyes. --
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Summary

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER

"If ever there was a perfect time for a new Anne Tyler novel, it's now." -- People
"Tyler's novels are always worth scooping up--but especially this gently amusing soother, right now." --NPR

From the beloved Anne Tyler, a sparkling new novel about misperception, second chances, and the sometimes elusive power of human connection.

Micah Mortimer is a creature of habit. A self-employed tech expert, superintendent of his Baltimore apartment building, cautious to a fault behind the steering wheel, he seems content leading a steady, circumscribed life. But one day his routines are blown apart when his woman friend (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a "girlfriend") tells him she's facing eviction, and a teenager shows up at Micah's door claiming to be his son. These surprises, and the ways they throw Micah's meticulously organized life off-kilter, risk changing him forever. An intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who finds those around him just out of reach, and a funny, joyful, deeply compassionate story about seeing the world through new eyes, Redhead by the Side of the Road is a triumph, filled with Anne Tyler's signature wit and gimlet-eyed observation.


Author Notes

ANNE TYLER was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the author of more than twenty novels. Her twentieth novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015. Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

A fastidious everyman weathers a spate of relationship stresses in this compassionate, perceptive novel from Tyler (Clock Dance). Micah Mortimer, 43, makes house calls for his Tech Hermit business and moonlights as the superintendent of his Baltimore apartment building, where the residents observe his regimented routine and wonder, through Tyler's gossip-inflected narration, "Does he ever stop to consider his life?" The disruptions begin with a call from his schoolteacher girlfriend, Cassia Slade, who is in a panic because she is facing eviction. Then college freshman Brink Adams shows up on his stoop and claims to be his son. Micah knows it isn't true, because he never slept with Brink's mother, Lorna, an old girlfriend, but he tolerates the languid, starry-eyed kid who claims to look up to him for living a working-class life and who fixated on a photo of Micah kept by Lorna. After Micah tries to put Brink in touch with Lorna, he disappears. When Cassia dumps him for not immediately offering to let her move in, Micah descends into a funk that just might push him to prove himself worthy of her companionship. While Micah's cool indifference occasionally feels like a symptom of Tyler's spare, detached style, his moments of growth bring satisfaction. This quotidian tale of a late bloomer goes down easy. Agent: Jesseca Salky, Salky Literary Management. (Apr.)


Booklist Review

If Tyler's large-cast, many-faceted novels, including Clock Dance (2018), are symphonies, this portrait of a man imprisoned by his routines is a concerto. Micah Mortimer emerged from a childhood in a large family and a chaotic household desperate for order and solitude. Now in his forties, he lives in an aggressively neat and clean basement apartment in the Baltimore apartment building in which he serves as super. He is also the Tech Hermit, responding to calls from people needing computer help. He keeps to a strict schedule, which includes some time for his lady friend, Cass, a fourth-grade teacher, but not enough to interfere with his need for privacy. And then, as so often is the case in Tyler's radiantly polished and emotionally intricate tales, someone unexpected and in need appears and disrupts the status quo. Micah's catalyst for panicked self-examination and change is a stranger, Brink, a college freshman inexplicably on the lam. Micah dated Brink's mother long ago, but he's had no contact with her since. What is going on? Tyler's perfectly modulated, instantly enmeshing, heartrending, funny, and redemptive tale sweetly dramatizes the absurdities of flawed perception and the risks of rigidity.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Tyler's warmly comedic, quickly read tale, a perfect stress antidote, will delight her fans and provides an excellent first for readers new to this master of subtle and sublime brilliance.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2020 Booklist


Guardian Review

"You have to wonder what goes through the mind of a man like Micah Mortimer," Anne Tyler declares at the start of Redhead by the Side of the Road. Mortimer, she tells us with the breezy offhandness of a gossipy neighbour, has a basement apartment ("it is probably not very cheery"), scruffy clothes, poor posture and an unvarying daily routine. There is a girlfriend of sorts but no sign of male friends. "Nobody knows if he has family." In her opening two pages, Tyler appears to write her protagonist off as scarcely worth the bother of curiosity. For a novelist who has spent more than 50 years capturing in detail the lives and hearts of ordinary people, this brief, judgmental pulling of focus is startling. It is also, possibly, a sly riposte to her harshest critics. In 2015, New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani disparaged the Whitshank family in the Booker-shortlisted A Spool of Blue Thread as "merely generic figures in a middling middlebrow novel: oddly lacking in emotional specificity and psychological ballast". Tyler claims not to read her reviews but, as her fiction proves, she misses nothing: a thread of steeliness runs through her determinedly unshowy prose. All right then, she seems to say. Here he is, Micah Mortimer, your textbook generic, middling man - if that is the way you choose to take him. Tyler, of course, chooses nothing of the sort. Redhead by the Side of the Road is slighter and more bittersweet than some of her recent novels but, like all her work, it tenderly opens an ordinary life and shows us the universal truths hidden inside. Micah was once the family star, the first ever to go to college. Now he scrapes a living running a one-man computer repair business, Tech Hermit, and moonlights as caretaker of his rundown building, fixing broken switches and putting out the rubbish. His domestic chores are strictly timetabled. Even his relationship with Cassie, his woman friend (Micah refuses to call anyone in their 30s a "girlfriend"), is hedged with unspoken rules. "They had it down to a system, you could say." But Micah does not consider himself an unhappy man. The afterthought baby in a large (and typically Tyler-esque) family of noisy sisters, he occupies a space between generations, setting him apart. While the family treats him with affectionate bafflement, teasing him as finickety and "a fussbudget", Micah cannot understand how they endure the relentless chaos in which they seem to thrive. He regards the discipline of his habits as a virtue. When he drives, which he does with great care, he likes to imagine the Traffic God, an all-seeing road surveillance system manned by men in green visors in awe of his perfect technique. "Good boy," they murmur admiringly as he stops before checking his phone, and "Did you see that? Not even the tiniest jolt," as he brakes at a traffic light. It is a running joke that, as always with Tyler, conceals a deeper, more serious point. Micah is not without compassion - he goes out of his way to help the terminally ill Luella Carter in 3B - but he has little time for the muddle of human emotion and is a harsh judge of those he considers to be falling short. His way, he firmly believes, is the right way. It is only when Cassie announces that she might be about to be kicked out of her apartment that things start to unravel. The next day, the son of an old college girlfriend turns up out of the blue on Micah's doorstep. Neither of these events in itself is earth-shattering. But Tyler is a writer who compels not through the complexities of plot but by the precision of her observations, her perfect pitch in the music of unremarkable lives. Little by little, as Micah lives through the aftershocks of these events, Tyler peels back the layers, exposing him first to us and, at last, partially at least, to himself. As always, her characteristically unpretentious, even folksy style belies both the intricacy of her work and its quiet profundity. Her quirkily inconsequential dialogue is never inconsequential. It is perhaps why some critics continue to underestimate her. As always, she makes it look easy. "You have to wonder what goes through the mind of a man like Micah Mortimer." Most people never bother. Fortunately for us all, Tyler has made a career of it. At the end of her marvellous 1982 novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, one character muses that it's "kind of heartening, isn't it. How most human beings do try. How they try to be as responsible and kind as they can manage." Tyler's gift, amply in evidence in Redhead by the Side of the Road, is not only to create characters that struggle valiantly towards goodness. It is to leave her readers wanting to do the same.


Kirkus Review

A man straitjacketed in routine blinks when his emotional blinders are removed in Tyler's characteristically tender and rueful latest (Clock Dance, 2018, etc.).Micah's existence is entirely organized to his liking. Each morning he goes for a run at 7:15; starts his work as a freelance tech consultant around 10; and in the afternoons deals with tasks in the apartment building where he is the live-in super. He's the kind of person, brother-in-law Dave mockingly notes, who has an assigned chore for each day: "vacuuming daydusting day.Your kitchen has a day all its own" (Thursday). Dave's comments are uttered at a hilarious, chaotic family get-together that demonstrates the origins of Micah's persnickety behavior and offers a welcome note of comedy in what is otherwise quite a sad tale. Micah thinks of himself as a good guy with a good life. It's something of a shock when the son of his college girlfriend turns up wondering if Micah might be his father (not possible, it's quickly established), and it's really a shock when his casual agreement to let 18-year-old Brink crash in his apartment for a night leads Micah's "woman friend," Cass, to break up with him. "There I was, on the verge of losing my apartment," she says. "What did you do? Quickly invite the nearest stranger into your spare room." Indignant at first, Micah slowly begins to see the pattern that has kept him warily distant from other people, particularly the girlfriends who were only briefly good enough for him. (They were always the ones who left, once they figured it out.) The title flags a lovely metaphor for Micah's lifelong ability to delude himself about the nature of his relationships. Once he realizes it, agonizing examples of the human connections he has unconsciously avoided are everywhere visible, his loneliness palpable. These chapters are painfully poignantthank goodness Tyler is too warmhearted an artist not to give her sad-sack hero at least the possibility of a happy ending.Suffused with feeling and very moving. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

A self-employed tech expert and superintendent of his Baltimore apartment building, Micah Mortimer never, ever looks for a change in routine. But when the woman in his life faces eviction and a teenager shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his son, Micah has got to adjust.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1   You have to wonder what goes through the mind of a man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone. At seven fifteen every morning you see him set out on his run. Along about ten or ten thirty he slaps the magnetic TECH HERMIT sign onto the roof of his Kia. The times he leaves on his calls will vary, but not a day seems to go by without several clients requiring his services. Afternoons he can be spot- ted working around the apartment building; he moonlights as the super. He'll be sweeping the walk or shaking out the mat or conferring with a plumber. Monday nights, before trash day, he hauls the garbage bins to the alley; Wednesday nights, the recycling bins. At ten p.m. or so the three squinty windows behind the foundation plantings go dark. (His apartment is in the basement. It is probably not very cheery.)     He's a tall, bony man in his early forties with not-so-good posture--head lunging slightly forward, shoulders slightly hunched. Jet-black hair, but when he neglects to shave for a day his whiskers have started coming in gray. Blue eyes, heavy eyebrows, hollows in his cheeks. A clamped-looking mouth. Unvarying outfit of jeans and a T-shirt or a sweat- shirt, depending on the season, with a partially-erased- looking brown leather jacket when it's really cold. Scuffed brown round-toed shoes that seem humble, like a school-boy's shoes. Even his running shoes are plain old dirty-white sneakers--none of the fluorescent stripes and gel-filled soles and such that most runners favor--and his shorts are knee- length denim cutoffs.   He has a girlfriend, but they seem to lead fairly separate lives. You see her heading toward his back door now and then with a sack of takeout; you see them setting forth on a weekend morning in the Kia, minus the TECH HERMIT sign. He doesn't appear to have male friends. He is cordial to the tenants but no more than that. They call out a greeting when they meet up with him and he nods amiably and raises a hand, often not troubling to speak. Nobody knows if he has family.   The apartment building's in Govans--a small, three- story brick cube east of York Road in north Baltimore, with a lake-trout joint on the right and a used-clothing store on the left. Tiny parking lot out back. Tiny plot of grass in front. An incongruous front porch--just a concrete slab stoop, really--with a splintery wooden porch swing that nobody ever sits in, and a vertical row of doorbells next to the dingy white door.   Does he ever stop to consider his life? The meaning of it, the point? Does it trouble him to think that he will probably spend his next thirty or forty years this way? Nobody knows. And it's almost certain nobody's ever asked him.     On a Monday toward the end of October, he was still eating breakfast when his first call came in. Usually his morning went: a run, a shower, then breakfast, and then a little tidy- ing up. He hated it when something interrupted the nor- mal progression. He pulled his phone from his pocket and checked the screen: EMILY PRESCOTT. An old lady; he had dealt with her often enough that her name was in his directory. Old ladies had the easiest problems to fix but the greatest number of fractious questions. They always wanted to know why. "How come this happened?" they would ask. "Last night when I went to bed my computer was just fine and this morning it's all kerblooey. But I didn't do a thing to it! I was sound asleep!"   "Yeah, well, never mind, now I've got it fixed," he would say.   "But why did it need fixing? What made it go wrong?"   "That's not the kind of question you want to ask about a computer."   "Why not?"   On the other hand, old ladies were his bread and butter, plus this one lived nearby in Homeland. He pressed Talk and said, "Tech Hermit."   "Mr. Mortimer?"   "Yo."   "It's Emily Prescott; remember me? I have a dire emergency."   "What's up?"   "Why, I can't seem to get my computer to go anywhere at all! It just completely refuses! Won't go to any websites! And yet I still have a Wi-Fi signal!"   "Did you try rebooting?" he asked.   "What's that?"   "Turning it off and then on again, like I showed you?" " Oh , yes. 'Sending it for a time-out,' I like to call that." She gave a flutter of a laugh. "I did try, yes. It didn't help." "Okay," he said. "How's about I come by around eleven."   "Eleven o'clock?"   "Right."   "But I wanted to get a present for my granddaughter's birthday on Wednesday, and I need to order it early enough for the free two-day delivery."   He stayed quiet.   "Well," she said. She sighed. "All right: eleven. I'll be waiting. You remember the address?"   "I remember."   He hung up and took another bite of toast.   His place was bigger than you might expect, given that it was in the basement. A single long, open space for the living room and the kitchen combined, and then two small, separate bedrooms and a bathroom. The ceiling was a decent height, and the floor was paved with not-too-shabby composition tiles in a streaky ivory color. A beige scatter rug lay in front of the couch. The minimal windows up close to the ceiling didn't allow much of a view, but he could always tell if the sun was shining--which it was, today--and now that the trees had started to turn he could see a few dry leaves collecting around the roots of the azalea bushes. Later he might take a rake to those.   He finished the last of his coffee and then pushed back his chair and stood up and carried his dishes to the sink. He had a system: he set the dishes to soak while he wiped the table and countertop, put away the butter, ran his stick vacuum under his chair in case he'd dropped any crumbs. His actual vacuuming day was Friday, but he liked to keep on top of things betweentimes.   Monday was floor-mopping day--the kitchen floor and the bathroom. "Zee dreaded moppink," he said as he ran hot water into a bucket. He often talked to himself as he worked, using one or another foreign accent. Right now it was Ger- man, or maybe Russian. "Zee moppink of zee floors." He didn't bother vacuuming the bathroom first, because there was no need; the floor was still pristine from last week. It was Micah's personal theory that if you actually noticed the difference you made when you cleaned--the coffee table suddenly shiny, the rug suddenly lint-free--it meant you had waited too long to do it.   Micah prided himself on his housekeeping.   When he'd finished mopping he emptied his bucket down the sink in the laundry room. He propped his mop against the water heater. Then he went back into the apartment and tackled the living area, folding the afghan on the couch and tossing out a couple of beer cans and slapping the cushions into shape. His furnishings were sparse--just the couch and the coffee table and an ugly brown vinyl recliner chair. Everything had been here when he moved in; all he'd added was a metal utility shelf for his tech magazines and his manuals. Any other reading he did--mostly mysteries and biographies--he got from the free-book place and gave back when he had finished. Otherwise he'd have had to buy more shelving. By now the kitchen floor had dried, and he returned to wash the breakfast dishes and wipe them and put them away. (Some might leave them to air-dry, but Micah hated the cluttered appearance of dishes sitting out in a draining rack.) Then he put on his glasses--rimless distance glasses for driving--and grabbed the car topper and his carryall and left through the back door. His back door was at the rear of the building, at the bot- tom of a flight of concrete steps that led up to the parking lot. He paused after he'd climbed the steps to assess the weather: warmer now than when he had taken his run, and the breeze had died. He'd been right not to bother with his jacket. He clamped the TECH HERMIT sign onto his car and then slid in, started the engine, and raised a hand to Ed Allen, who was plodding toward his pickup with his lunchbox. When Micah was behind the wheel he liked to pretend he was being evaluated by an all-seeing surveillance system. Traffic God, he called it. Traffic God was operated by a fleet of men in shirtsleeves and green visors who frequently commented to one another on the perfection of Micah's driving. "Notice how he uses his turn signal even when no one's behind him," they would say. Micah always, always used his turn signal. He used it in his own parking lot, even. Accelerating, he dutifully pictured an egg beneath his gas pedal; braking, he glided to an almost undetectable stop. And whenever some other driver decided at the last minute that he needed to switch to Micah's lane, you could count on Micah to slow down and turn his left palm upward in a courtly after-you gesture. "See that?" the guys at Traffic God would say to one another. "Fellow's manners are impeccable." It eased the tedium some, at least. He turned onto Tenleydale Road and parked alongside the curb. But just as he was reaching for his carryall, his cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and raised his glasses to his forehead so he could check the screen. CASSIA SLADE. That was unusual. Cass was his woman friend (he refused to call anyone in her late thirties a "girlfriend"), but they didn't usually speak at this hour. She should be at work now, knee-deep in fourth-graders. He punched Talk. "What's up?" he asked. "I'm going to be evicted." "What?" "Evicted from my apartment." She had a low, steady voice that Micah approved of, but right now there was a telltale tightness to it. "How can you be evicted?" he asked her. "It isn't even your place." "No, but Nan came by this morning without telling me ahead," she said. Nan was the actual renter. She lived now with her fiancé in a condo down near the harbor, but she had never given up her claim on the apartment, which Micah could understand even if Cass could not. (You don't want to seal off all your exits.) "She just rang the doorbell, no warning," Cass said, "so I didn't have time to hide the cat." "Oh. The cat," Micah said. "I was hoping he wouldn't show himself. I was blocking her view as best I could and hoping she wouldn't want to come inside, but she said, 'I just need to pick up my-- what is that ?' and she was staring past me at Whiskers who was peeking out from the kitchen doorway big as life when ordinarily, you know Whiskers; he can't abide a stranger. I tried to tell her I hadn't planned on having a cat. I explained how I'd just found him in the window well out front. But Nan said, 'You're missing the point; you know I'm deathly allergic. One whiff of a room where a cat's merely passed through a month ago,' she said, 'one little hair of a cat, left behind on a rug, and I just--oh, Lord, I can already feel my throat closing up!' And then she backed out onto the landing and waved me off when I tried to follow. 'Wait!' I said, but 'I'll be in touch,' she told me, and you know what that means." "No, I don't know any such thing," Micah said. "So, she'll call you up tonight and ream you out and you will apologize and that's that. Except you'll have to get rid of Whiskers, I guess." "I can't get rid of Whiskers! He's just finally feeling at home here." Micah thought of Cass as basically a no-nonsense woman, so this cat business always baffled him. "Look," he told her. "You're way ahead of yourself. All she's said so far is she will be in touch." "And where would I move to?" Cass asked. "Nobody's said a word about moving." "Not yet ," she told him. "Well, wait till she does before you start packing, hear?" "And it's not so easy to find a place that allows pets," Cass said, as if he hadn't spoken. "What if I end up homeless?" "Cass. There are hundreds of people with pets, living all over Baltimore. You'll find another place, trust me." There was a silence. He could make out the voices of chil- dren at the other end of the line, but they had a faraway sound. She must be out on the playground; it must be recess time. "Cass?" "Well, thanks for listening," she said abruptly. She clicked off. He stared at the screen a moment before he slid his glasses back down and tucked his phone away. Excerpted from Redhead by the Side of the Road: A Novel by Anne Tyler All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.