Later, crossing the upstairs hall with a basket of laundry, Willa glanced into Cheryl’s room to see what they were up to. Patty stood facing her, both arms extended from her sides, with Laurie and Cheryl directly behind her. All that showed of Laurie and Cheryl were their own arms, extended too so that Patty seemed to possess six arms, all six moving in stiff, stop-and-start arcs in time to the clicking sounds that Willa could hear now punctuating the music. “It’s a clock dance!” Cheryl shouted, briefly peeking out from the tail end. “Can you tell?” ( P. 207)
If Willa were to invent a clock dance, it wouldn’t look like the one the three little girls had shown her. No, hers would feature a woman racing across the stage from left to right, all the while madly whirling so that the audience saw only a spinning blur of color before she vanished into the wings, pouf! Just like that. Gone. (P. 274)
How I love Ann Tyler’s novels. Her characters are quirky and lovable; they make me want to jump into their lives and have dinner together. They seem to embody all the joy and sorrow that living entails. Somehow, her heroines are gentle and fierce at the same time.
So it is with Willa, whom we meet as an elementary age schoolgirl, taking care of her sister as her mother is completely undependable. Their mother is an emotional maelstrom, coming and going at her own whim, but never fully exhausting their father’s patience.
We follow Willa to college, to her marriage to Dexter, to the birth of their two sons. And then the second half of the novel is dedicated to Willa in her sixties. She has flown to the aid of her youngest’s sons ex-girlfriend, who had been shot and needs care. The neighbor found Willa’s number written on the wall above the phone, and so Willa goes to care for Denise, and more particularly, Denise’s daughter, Cheryl.
They form a bond unlike any Willa has had since her father or Dexter. Her sons don’t seem to love her. Her mother didn’t show love to her. Her sister doesn’t love her. They don’t need her, or give back to her. But, Cheryl needs her. While Willa stays, caring for Cheryl and her mother, we see that relationships can be formed more closely with people who aren’t related to us, than those who are. We see that Willa saves Cheryl, but Cheryl saves Willa, too.
Clock Dance is a beautiful novel, as only Ann Tyler can write, and I loved it.