I don’t know why I’ve been dragging my feet about writing this post. I loved this return-to-form story by Anne Tyler, one of my favourite character-driven authors. Perhaps, it’s simply because I don’t have a lot to say about it.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved how Tyler teased out the unique behaviours of her main character and embedded him firmly within a large, messy, chaotic family that was full of love, even if somewhat suffocating at times. I loved the resolution to this slim tale and can highly recommend it to those of you who love a gentle exploration of a sympathetically drawn character.
What more can I say?
The Redhead By the Side of the Road, without giving anything away, is actually a fire hydrant that our slightly myopic protagonist, Micah mistakes for a child in a hoodie, every single morning when he runs by without his glasses. Its a gentle nod to the main theme of the story. Perception, and how we see ourselves and how others see us in return. One of my all-time favourite book themes! And one that Tyler has mastered.
Like many of her stories, absence or loss is the driving force behind helping our protagonist to change. When Micah’s girlfriend calls things off, he cannot understand why and it takes him a while to understand that the weird feelings going on for him are grief and heartache. Or, as Micah, so eloquently says late in the novel, “I’m a roomful of broken hearts.” How could you not take him back?
My one and only beef is that Redhead By the Side of the Road is not as meaty or as angsty as her earlier books. I guess it’s a good sign that she has worked through her childhood issues and found a more peaceful writing place, but I do still love a rich, engrossing read full of childhood angst!
Anne Tyler has published 24 novels, of which I have now read four (plus seen the movie for An Accidental Tourist). Tyler, like myself, is the eldest of four children, But unlike myself, she grew up in a Quaker family in a commune in North Carolina. She didn’t attend formal schooling until age 12, where she found herself in the outsider role. She feels this has helped her to be the writer she is today.
I believe that any kind of setting-apart situation will do (to become a writer). In my case, it was emerging from the commune…and trying to fit into the outside world.
She graduated high school at age 16 and moved to Duke University on a full scholarship. In 1963 she married Taghi Modarressi, an Iranian psychiatrist, at age 22. They moved to Baltimore and had two daughters, both of whom she eventually enrolled in the local Quaker school, even though she no longer felt it was something for her.
Although her parents were believers, she gave up on religion when she was seven, the age she feels was in some ways “the climax of my life, when you finally know who you are. I started thinking very seriously about God and I thought I just can’t do it, so that was sort of that.“The Guardian | Lisa Allardice | 14 April 2012
Tyler’s writing is classified as literary realism. She has won and been nominated for numerous awards, including the Pulitzer (1989), the Women’s Prize for fiction and the Booker.
Tyler doesn’t see herself building up to “the great book.” “I think of my work as a whole. And really what it seems to me I’m doing is populating a town. Pretty soon it’s going to be just full of lots of people I’ve made up. None of the people I write about are people I know. That would be no fun. And it would be very boring to write about me. Even if I led an exciting life, why live it again on paper? I want to live other lives. I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances. It’s lucky I do it on paper. Probably I would be schizophrenic–and six times divorced–if I weren’t writing. I would decide that I want to run off and join the circus and I would go. I hate to travel, but writing a novel is like taking a long trip. This way I can stay peacefully at home.Anne Tyler, Writer 8:05 to 3:30 by Marguerite Michaels | 8th May 1977 | NY Times