Clock Dance by Ann Tyler

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.

17 thoughts on “Clock Dance by Ann Tyler

  1. It’s been many years since I read a book by Anne Tyler. Many years. I like the sound of this one and love the snippets you shared. Might be putting this one on my reading list before long.

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    1. I really, really liked her early books (Accidental Tourist, Saint Maybe, Ladder of Years, etc.) and then didn’t enjoy some of them for awhile. But, with The Spool of Blue Thread and Clock Works she once again displays her brilliance. These are stories with heart, with a female protagonist who heals her hurting heart. So to speak.

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  2. I may give this one a try. The last few novels of Tyler’s were disappointing for me. I gave up on The Beginner’s Goodbye, gave A Spool of Blue Thread a 2/5 rating, and Noah’s Compass a 3/5 rating. The last winner was Digging to America (read in 2006!), which I gave a 4/5 rating. I like her quirky characters, but somehow the stories aren’t enough to pull me in.

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    1. I completely agree with being disappointed awhile back! I think you might be pleasantly surprised by this one; although it is a bit similar to Spool of Blue Thread it was more like Ladder of Years which I loved.

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  3. I was declined for Clock Dance so I must wait for the release. I have no idea how they approve things because I review everything I get and cross post all over. So be it.

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    1. Isn’t it frustrating not to be granted a novel we’ve requested?! Come on, publishers, don’t you know how hard we try to write about the books we’ve received? 🙂 That happened to me with the latest book from Anuradha Roy, and I even told them how much I’d loved her previous novel, Sleeping on Jupiter. Fortunately, Penguin gave me this, for I thought it was great. (Don’t forget about the great Murakami’s you’ve been given! Xo)

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  4. Michael F

    One of my favorite contemporary authors. So pleased to read your positive comments. Can’t wait for this one to become available to the reading public. Cheers!

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    1. Glad you agree with me about her being a favorite author; I wanted to give a heads up about this one, even though it won’t be published until July 10. That’s coming sooner than we think!

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  5. It’s been so many years since I’ve read Anne Tyler but I know I’ve really loved some of her books. I need to revisit with her. I don’t even remember hearing about this book so thank you for blogging about it!

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    1. I think it’s just now becoming fully broadcast. I saw an ad for it on Barnes and Noble’s site for something like “your next book club read.” Which, as a matter of fact, it would be great to discuss as a book club. One of the down sides of blogging; I can’t fully reveal the story and discuss it here for fear of spoiling it for you.

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  6. Anne Tyler, a literary treasure. One of my first reading delight when I turned from French literature towards American Literature with my arrival in the US.
    I think I read most of her books, THE SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD was a pleasure, CLOCK DANCE I loved.
    There still is one I have not read, her rendition of Shakespeare ‘s Taming of the Shrew, VINEGAR GIRL.

    I am presently finishing WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, I believe you would like this gem. The prose is beautiful.

    Wishing you a nice evening my dear friend 💛

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  7. Great review. Tyler is the only author I will buy in hardback, on the day of publication! Clock Dance is beside my bed, but I’ve been saving it for the weekend.

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    1. I always buy a hardcover first edition for Haruki Murakami, but I can see why you would do that for Ann Tyler. She has returned to her glorious self in this one, after what I considered a brief departure with a few before The Spool of Blue Thread. This will not disappoint you, I think. xo

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