I have read everything I could find of Anne Tyler’s work ever since Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was assigned reading in college, and I’ve never regretted reading an Anne Tyler book. That still holds true as I read this latest book of her, Clock Dance.
Willa Drake leads a rather simple, somewhat plain life. She can easily recall the most unusual or extraordinary events in her life because there are so few of them. Then she gets a phone call that her son’s ex-girlfriend, Denise, has been shot and needs Willa’s help – with a number of things, but mostly looking after the ex-girlfriend’s daughter, Cheryl.
Willa isn’t sure why Denise would have her phone number handy that a neighbor would be calling, or why she should even consider getting involved, but she does. She packs up herself and her husband and they head to Baltimore to help Denise and Cheryl, nearly strangers, because she’d been called to action. Willa tries to add in that it makes for a good excuse to see her son, Sean, who has been a stranger to Willa for many years.
I’m not quite sure how to describe what it’s like reading an Anne Tyler book to someone who’s never done it. It’s like carving a pumpkin. It’s easy to do. It’s a pretty common thing – for Americans anyway. And you have a rather good, though general, idea of what it will be like when you’re through. But the intricacies, and finesse make all the difference between an expertly, beautifully carved pumpkin and an almost generic smiley or scowling jack-o-lantern.
I worked with a Shakespeare company for many years and we often talked about the fact that Shakespeare wrote about what it was like to be human perhaps better than any other writer. But I think Anne Tyler might be in the running for that title. Shakespeare gives us characters who are larger than life – sometimes kings or gods – to remind us of what it means to be human, while Tyler gives us Willa’s and Pearl’s (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant) and Macon’s (The Accidental Tourist). Tyler gives us characters who are smaller than life… characters who typically fly under the radar of extraordinary-ness but reach up and out and beyond their ‘station’ in life to do something extraordinary for a change (even if that something isn’t earth-shattering or revelatory to the general public).
Tyler creates real people in a real world and makes it extraordinary by giving some people a renewed strength which promises hope for humanity Tyler is a delight to read.
Reading this, after reading some Fredrik Backman (the Swedish author of A Man Called Ove among other best-sellers), I can see a definite similarity in style and story. Backman also writes about ordinary people stepping out. But Tyler’s been doing it for 22 years, and with much more consistency,
The title of the book, Clock Dance, is certainly symbolic and plays on a couple of different levels. We have Willa’s past, as we’re brought through the moments in her life that were extraordinary. And then we have the dance of time as Willa considers her future and what she will do with it. And then I also wonder if Tyler herself is teasing us by reminding us that we’re all dancing with the clock and that we should make the best of it.
Looking for a good book? Clock Dance by Anne Tyler is a motivating look at Willa – an ‘everyman’ for the modern reader.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Anne Tyler
publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
hardcover, 304 pages