Jo’s Pick of the Week: Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is one of my go-to authors whose books I rarely miss. I know I will always enjoy her novels; they are as comforting to me as wearing a cozy sweater on a chilly evening.

My first Anne Tyler books were two of her early works: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Accidental Tourist. Both were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and in 1989, she won the Pulitzer for Breathing Lessons. If you haven’t read her yet, you can choose from 22 titles, which always end up in her beloved Baltimore. I enjoy Tyler’s tales about ordinary people facing ordinary problems: dysfunctional families, loneliness, boredom. Her thoughtful, humorous stories center on her characters and do not have lot of action. Nevertheless, if you give me an Anne Tyler book or the latest thriller, I know what I’m going to pick up.

Tyler’s latest novel, Clock Dance, features protagonist Willa Drake, who readers first meet in 1967 as a young child with a volatile, unpredictable mother and a kind, quiet father. The story then jumps 10 years to 1977 when Willa is in college and attracts the attentions of Derek MacIntyre, and then to 1997, when Willa is married with two boys. Most of Clock Dance is set in the present day. Willa finds herself remarried and living in Arizona. At the age of 61, she finds herself floundering. Her husband is obsessed with golf and work. Her two boys live far away and are out of touch. Her life changes with a telephone call from a total stranger in Baltimore. Willa finds out that her son’s ex-girlfriend, Denise, is in the hospital from a gunshot wound, and there is no one to watch her 9-year-old daughter, Cheryl. The caller, who is Denise’s neighbor, wrongly assumes Willa is Cheryl’s grandmother and asks her to come and help.

Willa decides she must help the family, even though they have never met. Willa’s husband, Peter, is baffled and irritated, not understanding why she wants to get involved in other people’s lives. Willa soon meets the delightful Cheryl, who naturally longs for a grandmother. She also gets to know single-mom Denise and the quirky neighbors who show up at the apartment to lend a hand.

Tyler once again has written an endearing, delightful book about exploring life’s possibilities. At 76, she still has a keen eye for writing entertaining contemporary literary fiction with her subtle humor. She is a literary treasure worth exploring if you like character-driven fiction.

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