Every novel by Anne Tyler is a treat, I save them up, anticipate them. For me as a reader, she tells stories that seem ordinary but have exceptional depth, gentle stories which make me want to continue reading on into the night. For me as a writer, it is her I aim to emulate; her economy of word and scene, achieving depth without unnecessary diversion. So, to Clock Dance.
Told in three parts – 1967, 1977 and 2017 – this is the story of an ordinary woman, Willa Drake, to whom things outside normal life don’t happen. The three key events in her life – the disappearance of her mother, a marriage proposal, being widowed at 41 – are passive acts. Willa is not a proactive person. We meet her first as an eleven year-old, at home with her family; her emotionally-erratic mother, her passive, lovely father, her awkward younger sister Elaine. Willa takes on the motherly role, making a chocolate pudding, observing the ups and downs of her parents’ relationship with acute asides. At college, her boyfriend proposes to her and expects her to give up college and move across the country. In 2017, a confused phone call from the neighbour of her son’s ex-girlfriend sets in motion a chain of events that sees Willa gain a substitute grand-daughter but endanger her own marriage. Each time, Willa reacts to other people.
In Baltimore Willa and her second husband Peter move in with Denise who has been shot, and Denise’s nine-year-old daughter Cheryl and dog Airplane. It is an everyday story of a household, hospital visits, neighbours and community. Tyler’s observations of daily life are so spot-on, she tells the story in a way that makes it seem real, not a literary invention involving toil, plotting and rewriting. Without you noticing, time passes and people change so subtly it is impossible to put a finger on the point when the change started. Simple, complex, hugely perceptive.
This is a novel about meekly accepting your place in the world until the day arrives that you realise life is passing you by. Does Willa have the courage to find a new life? I was urging her on all the way. A 5* book for me.
Read my reviews of A Spool of Blue Thread and Vinegar Girl, also by Anne Tyler.
If you like this, try:-
‘Autumn’ by Ali Smith
‘The Stars are Fire’ by Anita Shreve
‘The Gustav Sonata’ by Rose Tremain
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#Bookreview CLOCK DANCE by Anne Tyler https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3J9 via @SandraDanby