It might have been the timing – I listened to Redhead by the Side of the Road when I was holidaying in country Victoria – but I found this book to be sweet and calming.
It centres on a somewhat emotionally-stunted computer repairman who is navigating a relationship with a teacher, Cassie, who is frustrated with his inability to commit.
At the same time, a boy comes into his live, mistakenly believing that he is the absent father the child has never known.
It is easy to fall into Micah’s mindset of approaching his emotional life and relationships like he does his job and clients – with as little effort or upheaval as possible. As frustrating as he is in his remote obliviousness to his girlfriend’s prompts about marriage or moving in together, he is also endearing in his fear of change, his desire for an uncomplicated life, and his ordinariness.
When he drives, he prides himself on abiding by the road rules, obediently using the indicator even when no other drivers are nearby. In his mind, he congratulates himself for the care he has taken.
He is confused as to why his past relationships have not worked out, but afraid to ask what might have been the cause of the problems.
He only pulls himself out of his stasis when he realizes how much he wants Cassie to remain a part of his life.
Although I felt a little sorry for Micah, with his predictable and boring life, I enjoyed reading about the small events in his days, like those who contact him needing their computers repaired, or the modest meals he cooked himself. Anne Tyler’s book is a classic example of the appeal of the mundane, and of peering into the life of another.
Little happened, but sometimes, that is exactly right. Certainly, in 2020, I’m happy to look away from increasingly desperate headlines and spend some time in Micah’s world.
Redhead by the Side of the Road, longlisted for the Booker Prize, is a gentle read that offers a satisfying conclusion and an interesting insight into a quirky but relatable personality.