Tyler knows what she’s doing ... This Baltimore is singularly Anne Tyler’s spool, ladder and planet. And Anne Tyler knows that memory is a powerhouse, a compass and also a liar ... Tyler has every gift a great novelist needs: intent observation, empathy and language both direct and surprising. She has unembarrassed goodness as well. In this time of snark, preening, sub-tweeting and the showy torment of characters, we could use more Tyler.
But reading this enjoyable novel—her 23rd—it struck me that there can’t be a writer, of either gender, who creates more engaging or multi-dimensional men ... Tyler rarely disappoints, but this is her best novel in some time—slender, unassuming, almost cautious in places, yet so very finely and energetically tuned, so apparently relaxed, almost flippantly so, but actually supremely sophisticated. Slippery, too ... Tyler’s ability to make you care about her characters is amazing, and never more so than here.
... heartwarming balm for jangled nerves. Once again, she burrows so convincingly into the quotidian details of her main character's life, home, and head that you have to wonder if she's some sort of Alexa-gone-rogue ... has a lot going for it, beginning with its alluring title. But I'm not going to give away anything about that roadside presence except to say that the redhead is a lovely metaphor for the protagonist's inability to see clearly, which causes him to misread the relationships in his life ... The narrative's tone is warm and wry ... The wry touches are plentiful and funny ... Anne Tyler's novels are always worth scooping up — but especially this gently amusing soother, right now, when all of our cherished routines have been disrupted.
Tyler wastes neither sentence nor scene ... It’s no surprise that every quirky character, from the stars to the cameos, is a vintage Tyler portrait, fully drawn ... an ending both nuanced and satisfying. A master at the small domestic moments that stand in for large and universal truths, Tyler never disappoints. This is a wonderful novel.
... is either wholly irrelevant or just what we need — or possibly both. Slight and slightly charming, it’s like the cherry Jell-O that Mom serves when you’re feeling under the weather. Not much of a meal, perhaps, but who could handle more now? ... I have switched dry cleaners with more drama ... If you’ve read and adored as many of Tyler’s novels as I have, such idiosyncrasies convey all the reassuring warmth of an old hymn ... There is nothing necessarily objectionable about a novel focused on 'such a narrow and limited man,' as Tyler calls Micah...But in this case, the mold growing on Micah’s airless character seems to have spread to the narration itself. These characters are a series of moderately eccentric poses presented without much wit or psychological insight ... Although the real world exists in this novel, it’s safely off to the side. Here, sadness is possible, even loneliness, but the bumper guards are up: No one risks slipping into despair or, for that matter, tasting anything like elation. The movie adaptation should be filmed entirely in shades of beige ... Tightly compressed, Micah’s gentle quest for a better life would feel more buoyant — and this novel’s lovely final page wouldn’t feel so needlessly delayed.
Tyler’s brief novel covers just a few weeks in Micah’s life and it moves so quickly and seamlessly you might think it slight. You would be wrong. As in a short story, each observation, each detail, carries meaning ... like so many Anne Tyler characters over the years, Micah Mortimer has trouble seeing what is right in front of his eyes. His inability to do so suffuses this poignant book with almost unbearable loneliness.
... it’s the wealth of brilliantly caught characters that’s her book’s greatest appeal. Micah’s visits to clients enable her to fill her pages with vivid cameos of a diversity of people ... Bursting with vitality and variety, it’s a tour de force display — funny, sharply alert — of Tyler’s acute enthralment with social interactions and idiosyncratic personalities ... [Tyler's] 23rd novel fizzes with the qualities — characters who almost leap off the page with authenticity, speech and body language wonderfully caught — that, for more than half a century, have won her such admiration and affection.
Ms. Tyler is especially good at making us feel for these loony lost souls, making us ache at all their blown opportunities for intimacy and connection even as—especially as—they’re shoved, however unwillingly, to a moment of reckoning ... doesn’t quite satisfy. While it shares the concern of Ms. Tyler’s best work, the story feels forced and hurried despite being lifted by Ms. Tyler’s customary and welcome style without a style ... Ms. Tyler has a gift for atomizing eccentric behavior ... the characters are either little more than the sum of their idiosyncrasies or mere foils for Micah ... Those who’d like to know how Micah came to be the way he is, why he avoids intimacy and embraces the traffic God, won’t get much help from Ms. Tyler, who now and then intrudes on the story as a rather baffled, rather exasperated commentator ... Alas, the ripped-from-the-pages-of-a-soap-opera-script plot is as thinly conceived as the characters ... It’s all a bit pat. The saving grace of Redhead by the Side of the Road is Ms. Tyler’s empathy, the empathy she has for her characters and the very high value she places on empathy.
Tyler’s handling of...slow-motion epiphany is marred by the odd cliché ... But her slender novel is still appealingly understated and full of insight and sympathy. It is also highly absorbing—partly because of Tyler’s evocative style...but mostly because of the intimacy with which she depicts the workings of Micah’s heart and mind. Her sensitivity to the ways in which fear and self-deception can stealthily upturn an existence result in a work that makes you want to live more attentively. Redhead by the Side of the Road might be lacking in plot. But its characters grant the reader a quiet revelation.
... entrancing ... Tyler is a keen-eyed but tenderhearted social observer ... Few writers flesh out the malaise of middle age with such delicate, assured strokes. Tyler is an American Vermeer whose canvases keep opening whole worlds within compact frames.
It’s rare these days to hear anyone grumble, 'Boy, I wish that book (or movie) were longer.' But I would say that about Redhead by the Side of the Road ... I would rather be left wanting more than dreading more, and it’s a tribute to Ms. Tyler (one of my favorite authors) to wish to linger longer in her fascinating fictional universe. If, in December, we might sing, We need a little Christmas right this very minute, in pandemic panic we might warble that we need or could surely use a little Anne Tyler ... The 78-year-old author has lost none of her touch with crisp, lively descriptions of characters and families, forged by biology, happenstance or fortunate error ... sometimes 178 pages is enough to examine a world that expands, contracts and, like a balky computer, just might be ready for a reboot.
Yes, a minor novel, but this being Tyler, it is a fully realised world full of dry humour, especially at the expense of tech hermits everywhere ... Each character is deftly drawn in a few lines ... Tyler notes how each of us tries to create, with rules and little self-deceptions, the fragile edifice of a tolerable life. But also that sometimes we must smash it down in order to love.
It is all done so easily and with such a light but assured touch that you find yourself caring. Tyler believes in kindness, and this is rare in our agitated times ... Her novels, which read so easily and pleasantly, delve deep below the surface of experience. She presents us with a figure who seems to have let life slip by him till forced by circumstance to engage more fully with it. Yes, Redhead is indeed 'the mixture as before,' but what a rich and enjoyable mixture it is.
Not a word is wasted in this slim, beautiful novel. Reading Anne Tyler is always pure pleasure, and Redhead by the Side of the Road is the author at her best. This joyful book is a powerful reminder of how much we need human connection.
There is a problem: I wasn’t persuaded that Micah is as 'antisocial and crotchety', as 'narrow and limited', as Tyler would have us believe. He may not have a wife and children, but his family all live nearby, and he seems to see them regularly; his jobs bring him into jovial contact with strangers all day long; women find him, somewhat inexplicably, attractive; and he’s liked and respected by everyone he encounters. In short, he is deeply embedded in very real social relations. And in the atomized and anxious twenty-first century, perhaps there is something to envy in a man who’s gainfully employed, cooks and cleans with pleasure, and seems genuinely useful to others ... By the measure of the mid-twentieth century, however, a single, middle-aged man like Micah must be incomplete, and that assumption is consistent with the distinctly old-fashioned world of Tyler’s novel. The characters constantly say 'Darn', there’s a peppy penchant for exclamation marks...and the movie theatres are full of 'slapstick or shoot-’em-ups'. Because these elements jostle alongside mentions of online porn, text messages and solitaire apps, the realism that’s usually Tyler’s strength is fatally undermined.
Tyler is famous for writing extraordinary novels about ordinary people. Redhead is no different in this respect, but it has a slighter feel to it than some of her masterpieces. A short book that gives a brilliantly detailed, tender depiction of one man’s regrettable way of living ... Though sparingly used, the omniscient voice is Dickensian, alerting us to the moral of the tale. There are overtones of Scrooge, and Melville’s Bartleby. Afraid of letting anyone too close to him, Micah is miserly with his time and love. Neglect is a major theme. In Tyler’s nuanced world, this manifests as a lack of cultivation ... Other trademark Tyler traits include quiet humour, emotional intelligence and razor-sharp insight ... The message is patently clear: by choosing to close himself off from the stresses and emotions of everyday life, Micah dehumanises himself and others...But it takes a writer like Tyler to deliver that message in language we won’t forget.
These days we’re all learning just what an illusion control over our lives can be. Micah learns it on a smaller, pandemic-free scale, but it’s disruptive, and maybe freeing, all the same ... a short book — at 178 pages, closer to novella length than novel — but Tyler’s prose is crafted like the cabin of a sailboat, with no space wasted, and packed with telling details.
Tyler is once again focused more on robust character portraits than fussy things like plot twists. Life, as my favorite novels of hers prove, is extraordinary enough without them ... Her piercing omniscience is on full, enthralling display here, and you savor the revelations she doles out during, say, lunch ... Tyler is a brilliant chronicler of human behavior because she understands that every part is something to someone. Even those somethings that may otherwise be referred to as, simply and pejoratively, 'domestic.' Yes, Michah Mortimer’s life is a small one, but as this period of extended quarantine and self-isolation is proving, whose isn’t? Though we have stripped our daily rituals down to their bare essentials, we remain as big and as loving and as scared and as frustratingly human as we were before the world outside screeched to a halt. Redhead By the Side of the Road is a delicate and moving reminder of this, and proves Tyler’s voice remains as vital as ever.
... it's a concise and trimmed-down novel at the root ... One might gently suggest, from an observer normally so acute and precise, that Micah seems much more like an old man, with his pottering and his eyesight problems, than a man in his early 40s. But the novel still has her vividly evocative way with language, rooted in ordinary speech ... There is, too, the distinctive Tyler approach to ethics; she has thought deeply about the right way to live ...
What is so moving about Tyler's work is that, always, we have the illusion that we're hearing what her people feel like saying, and no more than that.
Tyler’s skill is to make sure that readers can see [the protagonist's] point while simultaneously cringing at his tin ear ... a noticeably compact novel, studded with miniature portraits of other lives. Each of them bears Tyler’s characteristic empathy and brilliance at capturing something essential in only a few brush strokes ... the kind of plot twist that starts unlikely-buddy and stand-in parent-figure films, and there’s a kind of austerity to the way Tyler resists the temptation, sticking to the novel’s logic ... Tyler doesn’t cheat, and the result is that her writing here can feel truthful and moving but also slightly underpowered. Still, her novels are always absorbing, and her emotional generosity—the way she reveals in tiny flashes the extent to which we really know what we’re attempting to hide from ourselves—is never less than impressive. And at the present time, a book that weighs our ability to insulate and isolate ourselves against disaster alongside the endurance of small kindnesses is not a bad one to have to hand.
Redhead’s small dramas are both moving and comforting in our time of greater crises. Tyler’s detailed observation of human behaviour shaped by social change is an anthropological study. Her characters are recognisable and her dialogue casually revealing ... Tyler will have readers examining their own lives for missed opportunities and dodged mistakes. If there’s a flaw in this sweet story it is the suggestion that we’re all swimming like salmon towards the norm of family life. But Tyler doesn’t lay out rules or simple answers. Her writing is so expertly nuanced and honest that she carries us into these fictional strangers’ lives as if they really matter.
There’s a particularly wonderful scene halfway through the novel when Micah goes for a family lunch, a chaos of noise and people flitting from room to room as food is served over shoulders and conversations shoot up like 'geysers.' It’s a showcase of Tyler’s genius in finding humour and humanity in the ordinary. Her latest novel might not be heavy on plot twists, and the conclusion feels a touch rushed, but is still packed with wit and humanity—a good read to add to your lockdown list, if only for house-cleaning tips.
If Tyler’s large-cast, many-faceted novels...are symphonies, this portrait of a man imprisoned by his routines is a concerto ... Tyler’s perfectly modulated, instantly enmeshing, heartrending, funny, and redemptive tale sweetly dramatizes the absurdities of flawed perception and the risks of rigidity ... Tyler’s warmly comedic, quickly read tale, a perfect stress antidote, will delight her fans and provides an excellent 'first' for readers new to this master of subtle and sublime brilliance.
A fastidious everyman weathers a spate of relationship stresses in this compassionate, perceptive novel ... While Micah’s cool indifference occasionally feels like a symptom of Tyler’s spare, detached style, his moments of growth bring satisfaction. This quotidian tale of a late bloomer goes down easy.
... characteristically tender and rueful ... The title flags a lovely metaphor for Micah’s lifelong ability to delude himself about the nature of his relationships. Once he realizes it, agonizing examples of the human connections he has unconsciously avoided are everywhere visible, his loneliness palpable. These chapters are painfully poignant—thank goodness Tyler is too warmhearted an artist not to give her sad-sack hero at least the possibility of a happy ending. Suffused with feeling and very moving.