Redhead by the Side of the Road, by Anne Tyler.
The only thing wrong with this book is its length: it’s too short! As always, Ms Tyler draws the reader effortlessly into her story of a very ordinary Baltimore man whom quite a number of us would regard as eccentric were it not for his innate decency, good humour and strength of character – which does not always come to the fore unless tested.
Micah Mortimer lives, by his own choice, a fairly regimented life. He jogs a certain route every morning starting at 7.15am; he has different days and times for various chores in his apartment, and supports himself by fixing computer problems (He’s The Tech Hermit) and being the Go-To guy in his apartment building should anything need repairing. In short, Micah fixes things but doesn’t create. But that doesn’t matter – he’s happy enough with his life; he has a ‘woman friend’ (he refuses to call Cass his girlfriend because she is a teacher in her late 30’s, hardly a girl); they are very comfortable together and life is about as satisfying (and predictable) as one can expect.
Until Cass could be evicted from her apartment, and expects Micah to invite her to move in with him, rather than face the alarming prospect of her and her cat (the cause of the eviction) being made homeless. Micah does not react well, and before he can gather his wits and apologise for his insensitivity, his woman friend has opted out of his hum-drum little life.
And that’s not all: a rich-looking, preppy young man turns up on his doorstep, convinced that Micah is his birth-father. The boy Brink (yes, that’s really his name) has fought with his parents and somehow connected dots – all the wrong ones – to arrive at the conclusion that he and Micah should bond and get to know each other. The seas of Micah’s life, disturbed by hardly a ripple for years are suddenly at the mercy of a Force 10 gale, and he doesn’t know what to do – except try to fix it all.
In prose beautiful and simple as breathing, Ms Tyler guides the reader through all attempts successful or otherwise that Micah makes to improve people’s situations – and his own. Once again she has created characters unforgettable in their ordinariness, and once again we are charmed by her complete mastery of our emotions. I didn’t want to let Micah go in just 178 pages: give us more! FIVE STARS. (For being so short.)