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Clock Dance: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 10, 2018
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“A stellar addition to Tyler’s prodigious catalogue . . . A bittersweet, hope-filled look at two quirky families that have broken apart and are trying to find their way back to one another . . . The cast of sharply drawn characters dominates in ways both reflective and raucous across a series of emotional events.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed)
“Tyler, a master of honey enchantment and sly social evisceration whose storytelling finesse has propelled more than 20 novels, now delivers an especially lithe and enlivening tale . . . Tyler’s bedazzling yet fathoms-deep feel-good novel is wrought with nimble humor, intricate understanding of emotions and family, place and community—and bounteous pleasure in quirkiness, discovery, and renewal . . . Ensnaring . . . Quintessential Tyler . . . Brilliant, charming, and book-club-ready.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)
“Tyler’s characteristic warmth and affection for her characters are engaging as ever. . . [They are] all vibrantly portrayed with her usual low-key gusto and bracingly dark humor . . . Power dynamics are never simple in Tyler’s portraits of marriage.” —Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
ANNE TYLER is the author of more than twenty novels. Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Willa, the protagonist, grows up in Pennsylvania with a relaxed and loving father. Her mother, on the other hand, is impetuous and mercurial, often leaving the house for days. Willa is a parental child who cares for her younger sister Elaine. Willa is a 'good girl', always trying to please and not make waves. Part I of the novel begins in 1967 during Willa's childhood. By page 37, it jumps to 1977 when Willa is in college in Illinois.
As Part II begins, it is 1977 and Willa is bringing her boyfriend Derek home to meet her family. It is not clear what feelings Willa has for Derek but when he proposes, she accepts. Derek is an athletic and popular guy at school. Willa is shy and reserved. On their ride home to Willa's house, the man sitting next to her puts a gun in her ribs and tells her not to say anything or he'll kill her. Willa obliges and when Derek serendipitously wants to change seats, she is elated. However, when she tells Derek about the gun incident later, he minimizes it and questions Willa's perception of events.
Needless to say, in her passivity, Willa does not report this incident to the stewardess or airline.
By page 73, the story moves to 1977. Willa and Derek are married and are heading to a party thrown by someone in Derek's sporting goods company. Derek suffers from road rage and, due to his fury, they end up in a car accident with Derek dead. Willa is left to raise her boys alone, a part of the story that is not explored very much. We know she has money from Derek's estate but we know very little about her relationship with her sons.
About 30 pages later, it is 1997, and Willa is married to Peter who treats her like a child. His nickname for her is 'little one'. It is in this half of the book that things perk up. Willa is called to care for a woman she barely knows and travels with Peter to Baltimore in order to help out. The characters in this section are fleshed out and come to life. Willa, however, remains a passive shadow figure although she begins to gain some insight that there are other ways to live one's life than the ways she's chosen. She is distant from her sons and her sister and her relationship with Peter is based on her trying to please him.
These concerns of mine are not uncommon in Tyler's characters from other books. They often stand by and watch time go past, observing others' lives as they passively live their own. I loved the cast of characters that Willa meets in Baltimore and the way they are fleshed out. I only wish that we could have seen more deeply into Willa. I ended the book wondering who she truly is and if she would ever change.
I’m not the only fan who has called Tyler the “Jane Austen of our time”; the comparisons are obvious: beautiful writing, accessibility, colorful characters, perfectly pitched dialogue, and a focus on domestic stories. And woe be to anyone who considers “domestic stories” a lesser literary form, for it is in these stories of quotidian family life, punctuated by human drama, that we most recognize ourselves and develop empathy for others. If you never read a novel about the human condition, how would you learn to appreciate other people’s perspectives?
Ok – to the review: “Clock Dance” is about Willa Drake who finally “wakes up” to her life. We first meet Willa in 1967 at age 11, on a day that her mother has “run away from home” yet again. Willa, Dad Melvin, and 6 year old sister Elaine, try to “act normal”. In 1967 you might describe Willa’s mom, Alice, as “tempestuous”, “high strung”, or “mercurial” – today you might diagnose Bi-polar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.
The first half of the novel describes the few life-changing moments/decisions in Willa’s life in 1977 and 1997 - short sections, to set the stage and establish Willa’s character. We root for Willa throughout but it’s clear that she is “sleep-walking” through her life. It is in the second half of the novel, set in the present (2017), that Willa makes a bold decision to help a young single mother. That decision becomes the “wake-up Willa, call” and provides her a door to a different future than the path she was on. Will she walk through that door?
As in each and every Anne Tyler novel, there is a cast of characters that you will fall in love with and miss after you close the last page. Her characters are what make her novels SO “re-read-able” to me. I never read one just once.
I enjoyed this book. It did move a bit slowly at times, but Willa’s search for a purpose after a lifetime of being governed by others’ wishes rang true.