Title: Clock Dance
Author: Anny Tyler
Finished: August 27, 2018
Anne Tyler is a master storyteller probing the lives of the people in dysfunctional families. This is the third novel of hers I’ve read, the others being Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Breathing Lessons. In this novel we follow the life of Willa Drake. We check in on a few days when she was a child in 1967; again ten years later when she is in college; then 1997 when she is married with children. Those are prologues to the main part of the story in 2017.
Through some misunderstandings Willa travels from Tucson to Baltimore to take care of the child of her son’s ex-girlfriend – Denise – when Denise is in the hospital. The child is no relation to Willa. It is a beautiful story of Willa’s growth.
Because of her childhood experiences, Willa spends much of her life in the background of others.
Sometimes Willa felt she’d spent half her life apologizing for some man’s behavior. More than half her life, actually … forever charging ahead while Willa trailed behind picking up the pieces and excusing and explaining. [Loc 2533]
Tyler does a great job of showing how her early years made Willa the woman she became. Denise – the woman she is caring for – at one point discusses with Willa why she isn’t more direct in dealing with her son.
“I still don’t get why you can’t ask Sean for a ride”
“I was hoping he’d think to offer,” Willa said.
“But why just hope? Why pussyfoot around? Why do you go at things so slantwise?”
She was right. Willa knew it. … [Loc 2639]
One of Anne Tyler’s many strengths is her ability to realistically capture thoughts and actions of a character in a moment in time. In the 1977 chapter Willa is having breakfast with her parents and her boyfriend in a way that we – at least I – can relate to.
Quietly buttering her biscuit, she felt important, suddenly. She was the sole reason these three people were sitting here. For once she was the absolute center of her world, and she took her own sweet time over the biscuit, keeping her eyes lowered and spreading the butter exactly to the biscuits edges with slow, even strokes that felt languorous and self-indulgent. [Loc 814]
Tyler’s characters are well drawn and three dimensional. It is a delight – even if painful at times – to follow Willa through the years.