Anne Tyler Seeks Her First Booker Prize

I am pulling for Anne Tyler to win this year’s Booker Prize for “Redhead by the Side of the Road.” She is certainly one of the grand dames of the American literary scene at age 78. She has written 23 novels, three of which have been nominated for a National Book Award, one, “Breathing Lessons,” won a Pulitzer Prize, and one, “A Spool of Blue Thread,” was previously shortlisted for the Booker in 2015. I have been an avid reader of hers for nearly forty years, having read 18 of her novels. Why do I keep coming back to her?
The answer is simply that she gives me pure reading pleasure. Her books, most of them set in Baltimore and its environs, always have an interesting plot, but the real strength of her writing is her marvelous protagonists, all variations of a quirky Everyman or Everywoman.
The Everyman in her last novel, “Redhead by the Side of the Road,” is Micah Mortimer, an IT repair guy who doubles up as a super for a small Baltimore apartment building. Like so many of Tyler’s main characters, Micah has made poor decisions regarding both love and career. We meet him in the novel where he has attained creature of habit status, a middle-aged man set in his ways.
The Booker competition, as always, is intense. Especially this year, as Hilary Mantel strives to become the first-ever winner of three Bookers. There is a nice short video on this year’s longlist on http://www.thebookerprizes.com.

Redhead by the Side of the Road

Anne Tyler is certainly one of the grand dames of the American literary scene at age 78. She has written 23 novels, three of which have been nominated for a National Book Award, one, “Breathing Lessons,” won a Pulitzer Prize, and one, “A Spool of Blue Thread,” received international acclamation by being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I have been an avid reader of hers for nearly forty years, having read 18 of her novels. Why do I keep coming back to her?
The answer is simply that she gives me pure reading pleasure. Her books, most of them set in Baltimore and its environs, always have an interesting plot, but the real strength of her writing is her marvelous protagonists, all variations of a quirky Everyman or Everywoman.
The Everyman in her last novel, “Redhead by the Side of the Road,” is Micah Mortimer, an IT repair guy who doubles up as a super for a small Baltimore apartment building. Like so many of Tyler’s main characters, Micah has made poor decisions regarding both love and career. We meet him in the novel where he has attained creature of habit status, a middle-aged man set in his ways.
In typical Tyler style, Micah’s daily routine is described humorously. “Monday was floor-mopping day—the kitchen floor and the bathroom . ‘Zee dreaded moppink,’ he said as he ran hot water into a bucket. He often talked to himself as he worked, using one or another foreign accent. Right now it was German, or maybe Russian. ‘Zee moppink of zee floors.’’’
The book is a delight and a great and fast read (only 178 pages) to divert your attention from our own routines that we now face each day in this new and scary Covid-19 world.

Two Tales by Two Annes

As Tolstoy reminds us in Anna Karenina “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Two of this year’s Man Booker Prize longlisted novels, Anne Enright’s The Green Road and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread both delve into the unique dysfunctional dynamics of Enright’s Irish Madigan family and Tyler’s American Whitshank family.
However there are some interesting similarities in the dynamics of both families. Off-centered matriarchs; four children, two male and two female in each family; prodigal sons in both families; and the parents of these children with unspoken of dark family histories.
Ms. Tyler’s Baltimore locale is most familiar to me. A Spool of Blue Thread is the twelfth book of hers that I have read since 1981. Just as Joyce captured the universal human experience in Dublin and Dickens as well in London, Tyler’s does the same in Baltimore. She also shares a flair of depicting quirky off-beat characters so familiar in both Joyce and Dickens.

Green Road spool of bt
On the other hand, I have read only one other book of Ms. Enright, the 2007 Man Booker Prize winner, The Gathering, a book that, frankly, I found depressing and somewhat overwrought. There just too much suffering and dying of AIDS in that book, and the chapter of Dan in New York in The Green Road recreated that particular disturbing scenario.
Now don’t get me wrong. Ms. Enright is a remarkably gifted writer, especially in her lyrical descriptive prose of the beauties and wonders of the isolated western Irish landscapes. When she, on much too rare occasions, lightens her mood, she is brilliantly funny. One could almost see the twinkle in those Irish eyes. Yet her prevailing tone, in both books, is definitely glum.
In stark contrast, Ms. Tyler’s Spool, although similarly fraught with delicate and troublesome family issues , somehow lightens the narrative, and gives the reader a chance to occasionally smile and even laugh at times.