Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Redhead by the Side of the Road is Anne Tyler's twenty-third novel and it’s quintessentially Tyler with a quirky protagonist, a wry slice-of-life view of a chaotic family, an abundance of quotidian details, redemption, and the joy of the unexpected. Micah Mortimer is a self-described tech hermit who fixes people’s computer woes. He lives a carefully constructed life.
“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 spotted working around the apartment building; he moonlights as the super. He’ll be sweeping the walk or shaking out the mat or conferring with the 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.)”
Micah is in his early forties and he mops his floors on Mondays and has specific tasks for each of the other days of the week. His routines leave little room for surprise yet, as always in Tyler’s novels, the unexpected finds and upends him when Cass, his “woman-friend,” is threatened with eviction and his response to her dilemma threatens their relationship and when the college-age son of an old girlfriend appears at his door thinking Micah is his father. He isn’t, but Micah misses clues that might have helped him better address their situation.
Some readers have questioned whether Micah with his devotion to detail might have autism spectrum disorder or another disorder — to me he does not; instead he’s Everyman, my husband and many men I know. These men may not hide behind overly cautious rituals, but a plethora of them still miss seeing who the redheads in life actually are and are struck dumb when cues they don’t see derail relationships. Micah gets along well with his clients and the other residents of his building. He appreciates kindness and practices it himself. His actions show his connection to others, yet it's not always a connection that he nurtures with intentionality. Tyler presents Micah as a detached and distracted man of the twenty-first century. Everyone of Tyler’s novels could be titled Ordinary People, but this one also hints at Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus as Micah often fits in the category of a modern man missing the clues right in front of him.
Anne Tyler’s characters show you who they are without unnecessary embellishment so she delivers in 178 pages what it takes most writers over 300 pages to express. In those 178 pages that I gobbled down in one afternoon and evening, Tyler created a world I’ve pondered much longer than it took me to devour her words. I hope I won’t walk down metaphorical streets or travel familiar routes again without considering what I’ve been missing about the redheads by the side of the road that cloud my vision. 
Today, as every day in the last 45 in which I’ve sheltered in place, I’ve wished this strange pandemic quarantine would end, but on this day I particularly want it to end so I can glance across a table at a friend and talk about Micah and life. 

Summing it Up: Redhead by the Side of the Road is vintage Anne Tyler. It, like Saint Maybe, another of my favorites, introduces a male character who subtly captures the reader with an unanticipated combination of oddball compassion and decency. In an uncertain world, Anne Tyler’s twenty-third novel offers grace, simply grace. In Redhead by the Side of the Road, Tyler shows her readers that even in darkness, light can shine. Read this wonder of a book for yourself then select it for your book club as you'll want to discuss it.

Rating: 5 stars   
Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Gourmet, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Book Club
Publication date: April 7, 2020

What Others are Saying:

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Hid From Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Hid from Our Eyes: A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery by Julia Spencer-Fleming is out today. This is a short review to let those of you who adore this series (and I'm one of you) that this the ninth in the series is available today to ease your quarantine blues. My review is short because I don't want to include spoilers.

If you haven’t read any in this series, start with In the Bleak Midwinter and you’ll soon race to read all nine. Clare is an Episcopal priest in a small town in the Adirondacks. Russ is the Chief of Police and their town is considering turning over policing to the State Police when a murder that mimics two unsolved possible homicides -- one in 1972 and one in 1952 -- threatens to reduce confidence in the local squad. Issues including PTSD, treatment of women, and sobriety make this book more than a clever romp. Clare has personal concerns that I can't share as they'd ruin the series for those who haven't yet read the earlier books. The problems of her job and her life are overwhelming though. The local minor characters in this series never disappoint the reader. These books are simply perfect for our times. I found the ending a touch too tidy, but I loved revisiting Clare and Russ and look forward to seeing what happens next.

Summing It Up: The Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries offer a clever premise, interestingly flawed characters, a fascinating small town, and plots that always deliver. Begin with In the Bleak Midwinter unless you've read the others. If you have, you won't need encouragement to begin Hid From Our Eyes immediately.

Rating: 4 stars    

Category: Chinese Carryout, Fiction, Grandma's Pot Roast, Soul Food

Publication date: April 7, 2020

What Others are Saying (Don't read these if you haven't read any books in the series.):
 "Series fans have had a long wait to dive back into Spencer-Fleming's cleverly constructed mysteries, and this ninth entry (following Through the Evil Days, 2013), which delivers a haunting exposure of the town’s dark side, won’t disappoint." —Booklist

Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-312-60685-5