Every day is the same. You wake up at the same time, maybe go for a run. You make a cup of coffee, do a little reading. Life is monotonous, nothing ever changes and you kind of don’t want it to—but maybe just a little bit.
This is the life of Micah Mortimer, the protagonist of Anne Tyler’s latest novel, Redhead by the Side of the Road. It is a book about nothing in particular—but at the same time it is a reflection of our lives today.
Micah is a self-employed tech expert and building supervisor for an apartment complex in Baltimore. He is in his early 40s and lives alone. The routines we find exhausting are the ones he finds comfort in: wiping the counter, mopping the floor, washing the dishes. Everything is perfect, tidy and has a proper place. But one day, a young man shows up on his doorstep and claims that Micah is his real father. (He’s not.) This visit kicks off a series of inconveniences that Micah is unprepared for, and he begins to question the life he has built for himself.
We follow Micah over the course of several days in which the steady life he has led slowly begins to turn upside down. He endures a confusing breakup with his partner and a visit with his family, where he is overwhelmed by the chaos, confusion and disorder that often accompany family gatherings.
Even amid the turbulence of an erroneous paternity claim, everything about Micah’s life screams mediocrity. Its monotony can be unsettling to read about because it brings up the thought: Is anyone’s life extraordinary?
Is anyone’s life extraordinary?
There is a moment in the novel when Micah rushes home from a job, desperate to do something—anything. “He opened the fridge and stared into it for a moment, but then he shut it again. It was too early for a beer. Too late for another coffee. He didn’t even want anything; he just wished he wanted something.” I cannot count the number of times I have lazily opened the fridge, wanting to want something—anything—yet leaving disappointed. Maybe I am Micah?
Redhead by the Side of the Road can help us realize that life often is not spectacular or about jumping from one big event to the next. Rather, the novel reminds us, it is about being present to the tiny, boring moments presented to us every day. All we have during these uncertain times is our routine. We could all take a page from Micah’s book: Enjoy the life you have. Now.