Clock Dane – Anne Tyler’s latest novel, proving once again, that even folks like us are worthy of novelhood.
I cannot think of an Anne Tyler book I have not liked and although Clock Dance threw me off for a bit, Tyler is still a novelist I will never hesitate to read. What I like most about Tyler’s novels is her characters who are not attention grabbers—they are very ordinary people worthy of novelhood. Clock Dance is no exception.
The Drake family is not at all atypical of families of the 1960s. Dad is a high school shop teacher, a pleasant man who will put up with almost anything to not rock the boat, which includes making excuses for his wife’s most unpleasant and mercurial personality. Theirs is a family with no discernible ground rules for a balanced, healthy life.
It is 1967. We meet the protagonist Willa Drake, who although anxious to sell candy for a school music program, desperately does not want to do the selling. There is a tussle between her and her best friend. Willa gives in and becomes the one who rings the first doorbell. The sale does not go well.
Willa returns home, expecting to see her mother, but instead, her father explains that her mother “will not be joining us.” We do not know what caused her mother to leave this time and are uncertain as to her return, which, of course, does happen. Mom is smart, pretty, and emotionally unreliable including physical abuse.
It is now 1977, and Willa is in her junior year of college. She is pretty and smart, like her mother. She meets and falls in love with Derek, a senior. He wants to marry Willa when he graduates, but Willa desperately wants to graduate first. The boy is a fast talker and before the reader knows it, the year is 1997. She and Derek are driving to a party that Willa would rather not attend and arguing about their two teenage sons. (Do the math to see if Willa got that college degree.) Derek is speeding, annoyed with a slow-moving vehicle ahead of them. This causes a serious collision. Willa is both injured and now a widow. She does not place the blame on her husband, instead, blames herself for arguing with Derek. Another un-rocked boat.
It is now 2017. She is remarried and living the life her new husband has chosen for them. A new set of crisis circumstances is front and center and, once again, Willa takes the road most traveled, giving her all for others and not for herself. She is a good and kind person who this reader wanted to throttle! Would she never stand up for herself? Or, if this is a coming-of-age story, can we hope that Willa makes it before she dies?
Tyler’s writing shines in Clock Dance: events and characters we recognize, empathize with and even admire. But it is Willa we root for. Not rocking the boat may keep the waters calm, but Willa’s boat (her life) isn’t going anyplace in still waters. Willa’s boat has been floating for a long, long time. How Tyler ends the story with such finesse is pure genius — second to the last page and a reader might even miss it. Clock Dance, what a neat novel. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread; Breathing Lessons; The Accidental Tourist; Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant; The Beginner’s Goodbye; Ladder of Years; Saint Maybe; Digging to America; Back When We Were Grownups; The Amateur Marriage; If Morning Ever Comes: A Patchwork Planet; Noah’s Compass; The Clock Winder; Searching for Caleb; Morgan’s Passing; The Tin Can Tree; Earthly Possessions; A Slipping-Down Life; Timothy Tugbottom Says No!; Celestial Navigation; Tumble Tower; Vinegar Girl, Redhead by the Side of the Road.