Redhead by the Side of the Road Discussionl Journal

We have read four Anne Tyler books in our club since 2012:  The Beginner’s Goodbye, Digging to America, Clock Dance, and now Redhead by the Side of the Road. None of these are her most famous or award-winning books, but her stories are easy to read, comfortable, like catching up with friends or relatives you haven’t seen for a while.redhead

Most of us seemed to neither actively like nor dislike Redhead by the Side of the Road. Obviously there are gradations of this! Like the autism spectrum one of us feels certain the main character Micah occupies.  Our first responder asked if this book actually is a bestseller because she felt it was a “bunch of nothing.” One of us found it boring, but she still cared about the characters. Another really likes Anne Tyler’s writing and feels that she develops things quietly.  A late-arriving member said that it detailed a mundane, boring life, with some funny things, like “Traffic God.”

We discussed Micah’s actions and motivations and touched on many of the provided discussion questions without even trying. Many of us were uncertain about the title. I read from a couple of email responses, which I have posted in the comments as usual. I tried to draw some comparisons between Eleanor Oliphant coming to terms with reality and Micah’s awakening. Last month’s selection, Eleanor Oliphant engaged us more, with greater dysfunction, more drama, abuse, and a surprise at the end. Tyler’s characters are real and believable, so there was energy and excitement at the relatability and easy understanding, tinged by apathy, perhaps because we wonder “what’s the point?”

Why do we read what we read? Escape, entertainment, education, understanding? I think we take in what we read and it becomes an experience that will inform us in future interactions and decisions—whether we are aware of this or not. Did we identify with Micah, obligated and dreading the circus of activity from a family dinner, or did we identify with the family?  How reliable is our perspective of the past or even the present? How many times do we see a redhead by the side of the road and never know where to find the fire hydrant! Thanks for reading with us and joining our “family” discussion.

5 thoughts on “Redhead by the Side of the Road Discussionl Journal

  1. From RMP:
    Read/listened to Redhead by the Side of the Road. Not very impressed when listened to the first time, but as it is a relatively short audio book, I listened to it a second time. Found it much more interesting the second time around as I was more familiar with the characters and what they were doing. Micah was an interesting character for me, especially as I find myself striving to be a bit like him: attempting to perform tasks on a regular schedule. I fall far short of my efforts. It was interesting to see his introspection of himself at the end.

    My main criticism of the story, and the point that made me want to listen the second time around: I was disappointed that he did not have another interaction with his “redhead” as the book was concluding. I wanted him to have another experience that would have made the title of the book more pertinent.

  2. From JT: I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend. I read the book and was not very impressed with it. I was listening to the audio version & not paying attention to how much time was left and was very shocked when the book ended. It just stopped with no sort of conclusion. The whole story was just the minutiae of life without any catchy phrases, funny stories, interesting characters or riveting descriptions. I kept hoping the book would get better and have some sort of plot. Maybe the other readers liked it more.

  3. From CB: At first I didn’t like Micah very much. I thought he was “clueless,” and it really irritated me when he was so unsympathetic to Cass, not even offering moral support in the face of her possible eviction, let alone any practical help. As I read the book, however, I became sympathetic towards this character. He rigorously organized his life so that he could avoid disturbances, but everything fell apart when Cass broke up with him and Brink appeared on his doorstep. These two occurrences forced him to examine his life and his relationships, ultimately confessing that he was a “roomful of broken hearts.” (I love that phrase!)

    The title, I think, means that Micah is myopic, both in fact and in his view of the world. He doesn’t see things as they are but as he believes them to be, fitting them in the world he’s created.

    Question 4: Micah does not have an effective communication style. He can’t get the tenants to flatten boxes for recycling or customers to unplug their computers, the simplest fix. Also, he often seems to be responding inappropriately to things people say to him. It’s like he’s on a completely different wave length.

    Question 5, my favorite. I was very entertained by the various appearances of “Traffic God,” but I don’t know what they mean. It seems like another way of regulating his experience, but why isn’t there a “Housekeeping God” to admire Micah and congratulate him on his housework? It’s almost like an imaginary friend that only appears when he is driving. A friend whose good opinion and praise are necessary to Micah’s self esteem. I’m hoping the group will discuss this question and provide some insights.

    Brink is perfectly described by Tyler, a teenage boy in a crisis of his own making. Micah thinks of him as a rich kid, and I think his antipathy toward people with money stems from his failed business enterprise with his rich college-kid friend. He thinks Brink is ill-equipped to survive in the world. True, Brink needs help, but so does Micah. They both need to connect with others, accept help, face their crises, and rebuild their lives. Micah goes from considering Brink an annoyance to worrying about him and wanting to get him reconciled with his parents.

    I think this quote from Tyler really describes her approach to writing–“As far as I’m concerned, character is everything. I never did see why I should throw in a plot.”

    • We did discuss many of the things you mentioned here. Primarily, I believe that we found “Traffic God” to be comic relief. We liked the concept of “Housekeeping God” and one of us thought perhaps he needed to be seen (and interacting with others) for “Traffic God” to make a difference. Perhaps that is also why the Redhead is by the side of the road!

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