The new book from Anne Tyler, Redhead by the Side of the Road, is a certified palate cleanser. At least that’s how it worked for me. In the midst of a history book about pandemics, and historical fiction about slavery, this was a small story about a few days in one man’s life. It was short, charming, and a bit funny, but not profound or hard-hitting. Plus, it was easy to finish in just two sittings.
The gist of the story is examining the unremarkable life and unique character traits of Micah Mortimer. He’s a freelance tech guy and landlord’s handyman. His sisters think he’s persnickety. They might be right, considering he determines specific days for cleaning tasks in his small basement apartment. His woman friend (he refuses to call a grown woman a girlfriend) is pretty much a good fit.
And then one day an 18-year old shows up at Micah’s door with some questions. Our handyman isn’t a dramatic guy, so he just rolls with the punches in an easygoing way. The story is just that simple.
I always say I’m going to read more Anne Tyler. I even buy her books sometimes. But somehow this is the first of her work I’ve read in decades. It’s all because my Zoom book group is reading this for our virtual meeting in early July. So, thanks to whoever picked this little gem.
Sometimes it’s nice to read a book that’s just a simple, one-track, character-driven story. That’s how I’d describe this latest entry into the Tyler canon. There’s one perspective, and one main character with a few moderately fleshed out supporting characters. The action is small and requires no effort to keep track of details.
None of those comments should be interpreted as criticism. But if you’re looking for complexity and intensity, there are lots of other choices. Instead, this is quick, easy, well-written.
Creative writing professors and critics say that crafting a shorter story or novel is harder than writing effusive, longer prose. Every word needs to do its job without being extraneous. The plot should be tight rather than meandering. If that’s the case, then this is a well executed short book.
If you need a palate cleanser with a few laughs that reads quickly, give Redhead by the Side of the Road a try.
Pair with anything heavy, or stack up your palate cleansers and try these short stories by R.L. Maizes.