Saturday, July 14, 2018

Book Review: "Clock Dance" by Anne Tyler

Willa has always let life happen to her.

As a child in the late 1960s, her family lives at the mercy of her tempestuous mother, whose mood swings and disappearances leave everyone on edge, wondering which woman will be present each day. In the late 1970s, as she is planning a course of study in college that fascinates her, her boyfriend has other ideas, which include marriage and her moving to California with him.

As a relatively young widow in the late 1990s, she must suddenly try and figure out what is next for her life, considering her husband and children have been the ones to chart her course for as long as she can remember. And 20 years later, still seeking a purpose, she gets a completely unexpected phone call, and without warning, she finds herself heading across the country to take care of a young girl and her mother, two people she had never even met before.

While this decision uproots Willa's life and causes significant turmoil, being depended upon, even relied upon, for the first time in many years, feels tremendously fulfilling. And as she helps this family get back on its feet (literally, in one case), she feels a part of something. She has a purpose, even if it's quite simple. And in the Baltimore community, where neighbors seem to know everything about each other's lives, are willing to help each other, and treat one another like family, Willa becomes her own person.

So many books out there focus on characters in unusual circumstances, or in the midst of major upheaval or adversity. Anne Tyler's books more often than not focus on average, everyday people, living life the way they always have, when something changes. She has the ability to make a "regular" person seem much more fascinating than they might in real life, but perhaps more than that, Tyler is the champion for misanthropes, curmudgeons, and those who dither rather than make decisions.

Tyler has such an ear for dialogue. She can perfectly capture conversations between parent and child (no matter what the relationship is between them), husband and wife, siblings (close or distant), and friends. It's one of the hallmarks of her books—she is an author who truly "gets" people, and realizes characters don't have to stop bullets with their hands or navigate great personal strife to anchor a book. That is one reason her talent has endured through the years.

I'll admit I didn't love Clock Dance as much as I hoped I would. (I tend to anxiously await each new Tyler book.) I felt as if Willa's epiphany took a little too long, and then I felt the ending of the book seemed very abrupt. But the characters, while in many cases reasonably unsympathetic, were still fascinating, and I wish Tyler gave us more of some of the supporting characters.

No matter what, any one of Tyler's books is truly a gift. Her novels are truly a testament to her talent and her fascination with the flawed beings we humans are.

1 comment:

  1. I just read it, in one sitting, and I loved it, although I agree with you that it finished up too abruptly. I wondered if the ending was a kind of rebuttal to the ending of Ladder of Years, which I found unsatisfying. Your thoughts?