Cover Image: Clock Dance

Clock Dance

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A novel about how family is where you find it, whether it's your son's ex-girlfriend's daughter or the neighbors.
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Anne Tyler's character Willa Drake has a small life--small family, small world. When her son's former girlfriend is shot and needs help, Willa flies across the county to Baltimore to help. Her son doesn't understand, and, at times, Willa herself doesn't understand why she is doing it. But Willa quickly finds herself feeling as though the former girlfriend and her nine-year old daughter (plus the dog) are family.

Willa becomes acclimated to the neighborhood, the neighbors, and Baltimore, carving a new life for herself even though it is one her son does not understand.
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Tyler's book are enjoyable, but after I've finished I'm always left wanting a little bit more. I guess it's just not a genre of fiction that appeals to me very much. I'm also not a fan of the Hallmark Channel but they are doing just fine without my patronage!
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This book consistently held my interest, but I thought it might go somewhere else due to the title. There were many odd, superfluous details such as the crossword puzzle in the airplane. Willa was kind of a blah main character.
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Anne Tyler’s 22nd book, Clock Dance, has a subtle plot—so much so—that I was surprised at the hypnotic effect it had on me while reading it.  No thrilling cliffhangers were needed to keep me turning its pages.  I cared about what was going to happen to its protagonist—Willa—early on.

Tyler is a master at creating quiet characters and plots that move at such a measured deliberate pace, that it is sometimes surprising when her writing becomes profound.

Such was the case with this book.  The first half begins slowly when we meet Willa as a child being raised by a mother her father calls “tempestuous” .  That is a polite way of describing someone who is emotional and unreliable.  

Her father is a man “so mild-mannered that he thought it was impolite to pick up a telephone in mid-ring.” 

So Willa at an early age becomes a very responsible person who does not draw attention to herself, but instead keeps her mouth shut and is quick to smooth other’s feathers at the first sign of anyone’s irritation or disappointment.

We progress to a college age Willa who ends up marrying a domineering man with whom she has two sons.  She is left a widow at around age forty when her husband died in a road rage accident.

The book segues into the quiet hypnotic portion (at least to me) when a then sixty-one year old Willa, now remarried and living in Arizona, receives a strange phone call.  

A Baltimore woman calls to say that Willa’s little granddaughter needs someone to look after her while her mother is in the hospital— she had been shot.  That isn’t so strange you might say, but Willa doesn’t actually have any grandchildren! 

No, this isn’t a scam.

When the stranger from another state calls ( having found Willa’s number on written on a board at one of her son’s former girlfriend’s house), pointing that out feels somehow rude.  Willa tells her husband, “I haven’t felt useful in . . . forever.”

So, she flies to Baltimore to help out however she can.

Out of this quirky premise, Tyler creates a world in a Baltimore neighborhood with eccentric neighbors and a “daughter-in-law” who isn’t reluctant to accept Willa’s help.  (Willa’s son is living in another part of Baltimore wIth a new girlfriend and doesn’t seem interested in spending time with his mother even when he learns she is in town.). 

What makes the book endearing is Cheryl, her 9-year-old “granddaughter “ who isn’t a blood relation (or any relation) to Willa, but quickly grows close to her.  

As one of Willa’s elderly neighbors tells her, “Figuring out what to live for. That’s the great problem at my age.”  And that is the topic that Tyler rather quietly addresses in her newest book.

Thank you Knopf and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book and for allowing me to review it.
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I am a fan of Anne Tyler's and have been so ever since reading Breathing Lessons. Clock Dance is well-written and true to Tyler's voice and style; however, it didn't have the same impact on me as the former title. This is the story of Willa, who we meet as a young girl with a volatile, mercurial mother and passive, gentle father. Willa goes through life by pleasing, being calm, being careful about when/if to assert herself, and generally fading into the background of the lives of those around her. The story really kicks in when she receives a phone call from a stranger asking her to come and take care of her grandchild - who isn't really her grandchild but rather the daughter of her son's former lover. As she steps into a strange town full of strangers - all of them lonely in one way or another - she is faced with some truths that might otherwise have never seen the light of day. I think there will be many, many women who will see themselves in Willa.
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If you didn’t notice the name of the author of your most current read, it wouldn’t take long before you realized Clock Dance is an Anne Tyler book. Her stories always deal with the nitty gritty of life, focusing on flawed characters who both triumph and fail in their struggles, full of angst with a touch of humor thrown in to keep it interesting. 

Willa Drake is a reactionary, not a rebel, but someone used to reacting to any given situation, trying to smooth out the cracks which get in the way of moving forward. First there’s her mom - a difficult woman (probably manic depressive) with wild mood swings who blows up at her family for relatively minor reasons, disappearing until her disposition changes. At one point when it looks like her mom is gone for good, the eleven year old Willa imagines successfully stepping up and filling the void to keep the family intact. This opportunity is over before it really begins, and the hinted abusive relationship continues, with Willa’s father constantly doing the “repaving” necessary to maintain a somewhat placid home life despite the strife. While Willa is able to adapt, her younger sister’s reaction is more rebellious, causing a rift between siblings which is never quite healed. Jump forward in time to Willa’s Junior Year in college, when she and her boyfriend, Dexter, are meeting her parents over the Easter break. We quickly discover that Dexter is domineering, firmly cajoling Willa down the path which is most beneficial to his needs, not hers. Ironically it’s Willa’s mother who calls him out on his selfishness, but the confrontation just pushes Willa farther along into a relationship which leads to more of the same - going along to get along - even if it means forgoing her own dreams. Once again, as a wife and mother, she finds herself placating husband and sons to keep the peace. Fast forward to 2017, with second husband Peter, a “retired” lawyer a bit older than 61 year old Willa (who he deferentially calls “little one”). I’ll let you guess the dynamics of their relationship.

Here is where the story gets interesting. Not particularly close to her two unmarried sons, Willa gets an unexpected phone call which sends her on a mission to Baltimore to assist her oldest boy’s former girlfriend who is in the hospital. Accompanied by a misgiving Peter, she goes to the rescue of this stranger who needs her help in caring for her precocious nine year old daughter, Cheryl (no relationship to her son). Kind of a convoluted mission, but one which just seems right. Finally we are able to see Willa crawl out from the shadow of others, possibly learning how to stand on her own two feet. 

A marvelous character study of a wimpy pushover who we hope finds the inner strength to become her own person with an entire cast of quirky characters lending a hand in defining this journey. Tyler brings us back to her beloved Baltimore, as Willa, a somewhat petrified driver, learns how to navigate the streets as she chauffeurs her charges throughout the town. While this is a quick, simple tale, there is a lot of symbolism lurking throughout the narrative which will provide fodder for book club discussions.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

This review also appears on my blog, Gotta Read:
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I am a great fan of Anne Tyler. I have always found her characters multilayers, wonderfully quirky and human in a way that is thoroughly relatable.

With that disclaimer, I did not love Clock Dance.  It seemed segmented and without the flow of her previous books.  the transition from place to place is choppy leaving the reader to think that there are really two and maybe three books hiding between the covers.  

But I jump ahead. Willa Drake comes from a small town in Pennsylvania. Her father is a predictable but loving (if undemonstrative) man who provides the ballast in the face of her mother's manic episodes which control the family with her screaming fits and periodic disappearances. Going off to a distant college is the best thing that ever happened to Willa and then she meets Derek. Derek is California and the New World personified, all strong jaw, strong opinions and take charge. Willa gravitates to a man in control, except that she has married her mother's temper and volatility.

When Derek dies in an unexpected and self-inflicted way, Willa is left to raise two boys on her own and also to pick up her college career where she left off.  Rather than the academic career she planned, she shoots lower for a career in education and makes a go of it.  Then she marries husband #3, Peter, and again she chooses someone who runs her life and displays an unpleasant personality that only she tolerates.  

When a totally out-of-the-blue call comes from one of son Sean's ex-girlfriends that she has been hurt and her daughter needs care, Willa makes a totally inexplicable trip to Baltimore, dragging Peter kicking and screaming, and finds herself with what she has always craved: a run down neighborhood but with people who form an urban family of caring.  Most especially, she gets a unexpected granddaughter, chubby and assertive Cheryl, who touches something in Willa that she never knew was there.  Willa becomes part of the neighborhood and finds that she cannot detach

The problem -- the big problem -- in the book is Willa's spur of the moment departure for an unknown city with unmet people and a totally unscripted future.  It makes no sense.  Willa is a sensible person, not a fly-by-night.  And while she bends to her various husbands' will, she follows a prescribed path.  Her leap into the unknown is hard to understand and harder to meld into a story.

The part of the book where Willa lands in Baltimore, Tyler's regular territory, and becomes part of an idiosyncratic group of people is what we expect.  Willa growing in confidence and accomplishment, plus weaving herself into an unexpected family is consistent with Tyler's other books.  If it were possible to read the third part of the book without the first two parts, I would give it a much higher recommendation.

Meanwhile, fans of Tyler will seek out the book and be satisfied, in not overwhelmed, by this latest Baltimore saga.
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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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I really enjoyed this book, Willa's desire for something more and a more connected family is supplemented by Denise's accident. She found what she was looking for in a rather bizarre plea for help from her son's ex-girlfriend.  I don't think many people in her situation would have done the same as it was a really wild experience.
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This was a character-heavy/driven book with great dialogue. Sort of quiet and understated. It spanned decades in the life of the main character in the later half of the 20th century and into the 21st.
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I loved this book but  I’ve loved all of Anne Tyler’s book except for Amateur Marriage which broke my heart.  My favorite probably is Earthly Possessions and a number of times, I’d find similarities between the hapless, people-pleasing female protagonists.  Wilma, even her name implies a passive timid woman.  She is simply not capable of making a decision on her own or even taking an action that wouldn’t please her husband, through two husbands!

She bumbles her way into a situation completely across the country and becomes part of a community of quirky likable people, pretending that the precocious nine-year-old Cheryl is her granddaughter-for-a-day.  And as the days pass, her ability to speak and critically think for herself grows, until the end when she gives into what her husband adamantly requests of her, against her own needs and desires.  

In some of Tyler’s earlier books the likable hapless woman continues through her circumstances to the end without any sign of character development, which used to frustrate me no end.  I’d want to say, wake up and smell the roses!!  But real life is like that, there’s no guarantee that people take the opportunity to grow or change, and I knew that as I approached the end, but I’m not going to tell you what happens.  You have to read it for yourself!
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I love Anne Tyler and the affection she shows for her characters. Clock Dance was no exception. I loved getting to know Willa, Cheryl and everyone else in Clock Dance.
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Sadly, this is not a book I can recommend. I couldn’t find anything endearing about the main character. I wanted to like her but couldn’t. The plot was drawn out and the ending was flat and abrupt. #ebook #kindle
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I have been reading Anne Tyler’s books for years and Clock Dance is like a warm hug.  Her quirky characters are flawed but lovable.  Willa’s character  was developed throughout—as a young girl, abandoned by her own mother for a time, to an older women who learns to finally fly on her own.
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Never got past the first several chapters which is quite unusual for me. Didn't like the style of writing, the characters or the overall climate of the book. I know others raved about it, but I just couldn't work up any interest.
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When Willa announces to her family that she is going to marry Derek "and that's that", you just know that this is an Anne Tyler novel.  Tyler plops her trademarkable characters into another interesting story.
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CLOCK DANCE by Anne Tyler spans fifty years and tells the life story of Willa Drake, from the time of being a fifth grader (1967) and dealing with her mother's abrupt absences then to college years and engagement (1977), married life and motherhood (1997) and into the present day. The most recently occurring section of the book is set in Baltimore where Willa travels (leaving the home her new husband chose near Tucson) to help care for Cheryl, the nine year-old daughter of Denise, a former girlfriend to one of Willa's sons although he is not Cheryl's father. And that sentence should give you a sense of Willa's character -- seemingly filled with good intentions, trying to help, and, above all, to not offend or impose on anyone. In many ways, CLOCK DANCE is the story of Willa's awakening, a coming of age in her 60's. It is definitely a character driven work with a cast of unique and warm-hearted neighbors; Doctor Bob, Detective Dave, spurned Hal, young Sir Joe, and friendly Callie to name a few.

CLOCK DANCE is a LibraryReads choice for July and the Barnes & Noble's Summer Book Club selection (with most in-store discussions set for Aug. 8). This title received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. Anne Tyler has won the Pulitzer Prize for her earlier writing (Breathing Lessons) and her previous novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2015.

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This is Tyler's best book in decades, in my humble opinion. It reminds me a lot of my favorites by her -- The Accidental Tourist and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Willa Drake's life journey will enchant you, and her growth will resonate. It's a little bit predictable, since fans are certain to know where most of Tyler's books are set, but that doesn't detract from its charm. A warmhearted, funny, and lovely story of finding fulfillment in human connection.
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I love anything that Anne Tyler writes! I enjoyed reading about Willa who at age 61 finally decided that she would live her life the way she wanted. I would have liked the book to continue as I felt there were a few loose ends.
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