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Clock Dance [Paperback] Tyler, Anne

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Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life: when she was eleven and her mother disappeared, being proposed to at twenty-one, the accident that would make her a widow at forty-one. At each of these moments, Willa ended up on a path laid out for her by others.

So when she receives a phone call telling her that her son’s ex-girlfriend has been shot and needs her help, she drops everything and flies across the country. The spur-of-the-moment decision to look after this woman – and her nine-year-old daughter, and her dog – will lead Willa into uncharted territory. Surrounded by new and surprising neighbours, she is plunged into the rituals that make a community and takes pleasure in the most unexpected things.

A bittersweet novel of hope and regret, fulfillment and renewal, Clock Dance brings us the everyday life of a woman who decides it’s never too late to change direction, and choose your own path.

292 pages, Paperback

First published July 10, 2018

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About the author

Anne Tyler

105 books6,759 followers
Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. She has published 20 novels, her debut novel being If Morning Ever Comes in (1964). Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons , was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,979 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,732 reviews14.1k followers
June 25, 2018
3.5 I've read this author for years, her stories won't shake up the world nor cause any great seismic shifts in the Universe. Yet, they are so much about life, people that she treats so ternderly, with so much consideration for the unique individuals they are. Her writings, and this one is no exception, appeal because they are familiar. Her characters could be a family member, a friend, or the person one depends on when help is needed. Her unique talent is an insight into the many different ways we live our lives. This novel is very low key, understated, and fits perfectly with Willa. Willa, now 61, is one of those ladies who are there in the background, not demanding, just goes along with the flow seemingly wherever someone wants her to head. She has had two sons, wishes she were closer to them, gave up her career aspirations when she married, was widowed fairly young, and is now married again yo the demanding Peter. She is the person in the background, the one who makes the best of her life choices, causes little fuss, and is there when needed. Until one day, she gets a phone call.........

Reading this book madkes me realize how easily we sometimes give in, how we can absorb and accept things we never thought we could. How they become the new normal. How much simpler it is to just go along, but maybe not as satisfying. I loved the characters Willa meets in this novel, how she risks herself, slowly stepping out of her shell. But once one does, where does one go from there? Well, that's Willas story and she can tell it better.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,284 reviews2,205 followers
May 28, 2018
This is the Anne Tyler that I have enjoyed for so many years . I was drawn to a seemingly ordinary character I couldn’t help but root for, couldn’t help but want something more for than she has been able to manage for herself, as I was back to Tyler’s beloved Baltimore with a cast of quirky characters I fell for . Once again she illustrates that a story doesn’t have to be about anything earth shattering to the world at large to be meaningful and full of heart and to make us think that life is always full of possibilities.

In 1967 eleven year old Willa Drake doesn’t have a perfect home life with a volatile, moody mother and a passive father. Fast forward to 1977 when she is twenty-one and we first meet Derek, the guy she’ll marry, someone full of himself, anxious for her to give up her plans for him and she does. Fast forward to 1997 when she’s forty-one and a widow and her sons are distant. Fast forward again to 2017 when she’s sixty-one remarried to Peter who seems an awful lot like Derek. Anne Tyler seamlessly and quickly moves us across decades and while without telling us what happens in between, she has a way of letting us understand what those years may have been like for Willa. “She was the only woman she knew whose prime objective was to be taken for granted.”

Enter into her life, by a phone call that was perhaps not meant to have occurred, is Denise, her son’s ex girlfriend and her nine year old daughter, Cheryl. Along with them a cast of characters who get to Willa in a way she hasn’t felt in a long time. No need to tell more of the plot because if you are an Anne Tyler fan, you will want to read this book. If you have not read Tyler and enjoy reading about a character who is relatable, whose life is not earthshaking, but one that is full of hope and possibilities, you may enjoy this as well.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Knopf through Firsttoread.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
July 21, 2018
I'm around 3.5 stars.

Willa has always let life happen to her.

As a child in the late 1960s, her family lives at the mercy of her tempestuous mother, whose mood swings and disappearances leave everyone on edge, wondering which woman will be present each day. In the late 1970s, as she is planning a course of study in college that fascinates her, her boyfriend has other ideas, which include marriage and her moving to California with him.

As a relatively young widow in the late 1990s, she must suddenly try and figure out what is next for her life, considering her husband and children have been the ones to chart her course for as long as she can remember. And 20 years later, still seeking a purpose, she gets a completely unexpected phone call, and without warning, she finds herself heading across the country to take care of a young girl and her mother, two people she had never even met before.

While this decision uproots Willa's life and causes significant turmoil, being depended upon, even relied upon, for the first time in many years, feels tremendously fulfilling. And as she helps this family get back on its feet (literally, in one case), she feels a part of something. She has a purpose, even if it's quite simple. And in the Baltimore community, where neighbors seem to know everything about each other's lives, are willing to help each other, and treat one another like family, Willa becomes her own person.

So many books out there focus on characters in unusual circumstances, or in the midst of major upheaval or adversity. Anne Tyler's books more often than not focus on average, everyday people, living life the way they always have, when something changes. She has the ability to make a "regular" person seem much more fascinating than they might in real life, but perhaps more than that, Tyler is the champion for misanthropes, curmudgeons, and those who dither rather than make decisions.

Tyler has such an ear for dialogue. She can perfectly capture conversations between parent and child (no matter what the relationship is between them), husband and wife, siblings (close or distant), and friends. It's one of the hallmarks of her books—she is an author who truly "gets" people, and realizes characters don't have to stop bullets with their hands or navigate great personal strife to anchor a book. That is one reason her talent has endured through the years.

I'll admit I didn't love Clock Dance as much as I hoped I would. (I tend to anxiously await each new Tyler book.) I felt as if Willa's epiphany took a little too long, and then I felt the ending of the book seemed very abrupt. But the characters, while in many cases reasonably unsympathetic, were still fascinating, and I wish Tyler gave us more of some of the supporting characters.

No matter what, any one of Tyler's books is truly a gift. Her novels are truly a testament to her talent and her fascination with the flawed beings we humans are.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,143 reviews2,487 followers
October 18, 2018
4.5 stars, rounded up

Anne Tyler is a master at writing about the ordinary in an extraordinary way. This is a beautifully told, thought-provoking novel that resonates with emotional depth. Terrific dialogue and well-developed quirky characters also makes it an endearing read. I read this book cover to cover in one day. I loved it. Anne Tyler simply gets women and understands their rich interior life.

Willa is in her early 60’s and has spent her life with strong men (some, including me, might call them bullies) and she subjugates her needs and desires to others. She’s the compliant good girl, the mild-mannered one who walks on eggshells to keep the peace. In the early chapters, we are given the background story from her highly dysfunctional childhood, all of which helps explain Willa's personality. I felt I really came to know and understand Willa, and why she made the decisions that shaped her life.

In the current day, she gets a phone call from the neighbor of her son's ex-girlfriend, Denise. The neighbor tells Willa that Denise is in the hospital recovering from surgery, and asks her to come and care for Denise's daughter, Cheryl, a girl she assumes is Willa's granddaughter. The problem? Willa has no grandchildren. It’s a case of mistaken identity.

Despite her husband’s displeasure, Willa decides to fly across the country to Baltimore and help out. Some readers struggle with the 'why' but I understood Willa’s motives. She is getting older, her two sons are distant, her husband is an ass, she’s bored, and is attracted to the need to be needed. To have an adventure.

I fell in love with the little girl, Cheryl, who was delightful, and the opposite of the younger Willa. Through the quirky neighbors, Willa begins to see what it’s like to be a part of a supportive family and community, to be needed, to have a purpose.

Willa's timidity and passiveness drives some readers nuts, but that’s the entire point of the book. Does she find her voice, and does her character grow and develop? Her life has been defined by others. When Willa is given the opportunity to change, will she take it? I loved seeing the potential for growth in an older woman, a woman who begins to see her life with clarity and questions the relevance of her life. Seeing her make her own family, not one of blood, but of connection, was heart-warming.

She touched my heart and I cheered her on! It's never too late if you are willing to take a chance on life.

This may not be a book that resonates with a younger audience but I highly recommend it. It's the perfect example of why Anne Tyler is one of my top authors.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,529 followers
May 2, 2021
It’s been over a week since I finished Anne Tyler’s latest novel, Clock Dance, and I have to admit: I’m suffering from withdrawal.

I miss her characters. Tyler has the ability to create people of such depth and richness that you’ll swear you know them like friends and family. Even now, when I think of the 8 or 9 Tyler novels I’ve read, I can vividly remember the set-in-his-ways Macon Leary (from The Accidental Tourist), those very different Tull children and their distant mother, Pearl (Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant) and the bickering, mismatched Maggie and Ira Moran (Breathing Lessons). Those are just a few.

Critics of her work argue she writes the same story continually, and after a while you can see patterns among her chatty, well-meaning women, her low-key, genial men and her life-affirming (usually female) rebels. But each one of her books is fixed clearly in my mind – not something I can say about a lot of other writers.

Clock Dance’s protagonist is Willa Drake, and I love the way Tyler lets us get to know her. In the first part, we’re given chapters that each capture a significant moment in her life. In the first chapter, she’s 11 and her mother – a flighty, dramatic type – abandons the family (that too is a common Tyler theme; many of her women simply walk out the door). Ten years later, Willa is a college student whose boyfriend springs something surprising on her during a visit to her family home. And ten years after that, Willa finds herself dealing, rather passively, with a tragedy.

All of this is a set up for the second part of the book, in which Willa, now 61, gets a phone call about Denise, one of her distant sons’ ex-girlfriends, who’s living in Baltimore. Willa’s never met the woman, but she agrees to travel across the country to take care of Denise’s 9-year-old daughter, even though the kid’s not her son’s child.

Willa has been a rather timid observer throughout most of her life – an early scene set in an airplane remarkably illustrates that – and now, finally, she’s doing something decisive, even though her family doesn’t understand why.

The book’s not perfect. Once Willa gets to Baltimore, she meets a few too many eccentric, quirky characters, and I had a hard time keeping them straight. The title also doesn’t resonate in the way most of her other ones do.

But what I loved was seeing how artfully Tyler wove various motifs into the book: airplanes, children cooking, driving. By letting us glimpse characters over decades, she lets us see how people repeat themselves, make the same mistakes they – or even their parents – did before. Have you ever seen a child who has the spunk you wish you’d had at that age? Willa does, and it reinvigorates her life.

I know women like Willa, people who, without realizing it, do everything for the males around them, only to end up unappreciated. So when she discovers a new family – one in which she’s warmly welcomed – why wouldn’t she want to spend time with them?

I have yet to give an Anne Tyler novel less than 3 stars. And this one, while not her best, shows she’s lost none of her powers. She’s a marvel.
Profile Image for Jaline.
444 reviews1,607 followers
November 22, 2018
This story found me following Willa Drake through key moments in her life at the ages of 11, 21, 41, and 61, and it was a journey that elicited empathy from me. Her family has problems with one unreliable parent and the other a passive enabler. Willa’s sister Elaine is only 6 years old when the novel opens and Willa feels responsible for her well-being. Indeed, she takes on a sense that she is responsible for everyone.

When she marries and has children of her own, she vows to ensure they never feel the inconsistencies and wild swings of personality that she experienced herself as a child. Through marriage, motherhood, widowhood, and re-marriage, Willa submerges parts of herself into the waters of Peace at All Costs.

And yet, it is also clear that the Willa who had her own hopes and dreams is still dormant within her. Indeed, the smart, witty, and ambitious Willa begins to merge with her docile, diplomatic self. It is a loose merging at first with long gap times where the threads grow loose and sloppy, but they never completely disconnect.

When the time comes that someone reaches out for her help when they are in need, suddenly all those parts of her self begin to take on a new pattern – bright, sure, and strong.

I loved this novel because of how Anne Tyler’s deep explorations into the life and psyche of one woman led me to understand and relate to so many people I have known – and even to aspects of myself.

This wonderfully written story is a captivating read both on the surface, and even more importantly, for the deep exploration of being human and growing into who we dreamed we might become.
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,291 reviews2,962 followers
May 18, 2018
I really enjoyed the first 100 pages or so as the story moved from Willa as a child, later attending college, and then as a wife and mother. The story however lost me when the action moved to Baltimore with Willa flying there to take care of a little girl as her mother is in the hospital. I found most of the characters in the second half of the book annoying and because of that I couldn't really go with the whole story line from that point forward. I liked Willa as a character and enjoyed seeing how her life progressed through the years but those Baltimore characters ruined the story for me. I know I'm in the minority with my opinion as others seemed to really connect with this book which is great. Personally, I didn't care for it other than the first part of the book.

Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy! I was under no obligation to post a review and all views expressed are my honest opinion.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
September 25, 2018
I must be a magnet to to saddest...
If there is an ounce of sadness in a story - I latch on tightly.
This story had plenty of it too. It’s not that I was feeling sad every minute, but my god, it killed me right from the start knowing a little girl had to be ‘responsible’ and ‘adult-like’ before she was developmentally prepared or age-appropriate.

Later we visit a familiar theme that women have grappled with for centuries: pleasing others - giving up dreams ( if even clear of them in the first place), trying to take care of everyone else’s needs, but little thought to one’s own.

And what I found interesting- and incredibly ‘present-day-modern-life relatable’, is the role that ‘strangers’ play in our lives.
If we are unsure of ourselves - our purpose - not finding it at home - why not reach out in completely new directions?
‘Strangers’ often become sub-families.

Ann gives us much to chew on - discuss - in “Clock Dance”.
We journey with Willa Drake from childhood to middle age.
I don’t think we saw the full depths of Willa. She opened a locked door to herself ...but I’m left wondering what else is going on inside her and what’s next?
Not knowing is a gut honest uncomfortable place to be.

I still don’t like the book cover - but I enjoyed the book....(the characters - the subtlety- and the insightful thoughts it ignites).

Very glad I read this!!!

Profile Image for Avid.
225 reviews16 followers
July 20, 2018
I feel like 2 stars may be generous. There were so many things wrong with this book. Probably the worst were the unrealistic and flat (and misnamed) characters. (Find me a single 9-year-old IRL named cheryl). The contrived situation, the ever-present and over-involved (and idle) neighbors, the way all three of the remaining men in her life are complete dicks (peter, ian, and sean - how did they get to be that way, anyway?) - her complete cluelessness about how cellphones work and reliance on landlines (she’s 60, for godsake, not 90!). The author would have been well served by updating her knowledge of casts, and hospitals, and airlines, and investigations of shootings, and uber, as well. It’s like she phoned this in from the 1970s. The title is based on a throwaway situation with no significance to anything. The ending is exactly what you’d expect from about 50 pages in. The beginning scenes are irrelevant to anything that happens later. I would expect a much better product from an established writer.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,336 followers
June 17, 2018
Anne Tyler “gets” people. Her stories are deceptively simple, but the strength of her writing is in the nuanced interactions between her characters. Clock Dance wasn’t my favourite Anne Tyler, but it still gave me the satisfaction of reading fiction written by a master. The story focuses on different slices in the life of main character Willa. We see Willa at age 11 when her mother disappears for a few days, Willa at age 21 when she brings her boyfriend home from college, Willa in her early 40s when faced by a terrible loss and Willa in her early 60s when she is unexpectedly propelled to care for someone else’s 11 year old. As I write this description, I realize that there’s a symmetry to the story I had missed as I read it. The real focus of Taylor’s novel is how Willa is shaped by these events, and how her personality simultaneously helps and hinders her. Taylor is the master of scenes where emotions are potent and much is left unsaid, and there are plenty of such scenes in Clock Dance. Without saying it explicitly, Taylor shows Willa’s life as a life of kindness, hindered by hesitation and carefulness. It feels painful and real, although the end is satisfying. Recommended for fans of Anne Tyler. Thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Meredith B.  (readingwithmere).
234 reviews160 followers
August 8, 2018
3 Stars!

This was my first Anne Tyler book and I picked it up because it is the Barnes and noble book club quarterly pick!

The book opens when Willa is a young girl. We spend the next 100 or so pages going through her childhood and early adult life. She goes to college, gets married, has 2 sons and overall a pretty average American life. One day her and her then husband Derek are in a serious car accident and their lives are pretty much forever changed.

We jump to the next 20 years and Willa is married to someone named Peter and he is not someone I would call a great spouse. He calls her "Little One", which is bizarre to call your wife. He also tells her what to do and she just kind of mouses away and goes with it. At this point Willa doesn't have much of a relationship with her sons, her sister and both of her parents have passed. She gets a call from one of her's son's ex girlfriends friends that Denise has been in an accident. Willa and Peter fly out to Baltimore to take care of her and this is when Willa realizes that strangers can turn into friends who can turn into family.

Overall I think the book was OK. I really enjoyed the fact that the story was about a woman who has been told what to do most of her life and once she's put into this new situation, she kind of finds her own voice and becomes a more independent and strong person. I think that was really heartwarming that she found comfort in this new place and with these strangers that suddenly came into her life. I also really enjoyed Anne Tyler's writing style.

This book was only OK for me because I felt like the story was a bit slow moving for me. Maybe I was thinking there would be a bit more action and I wanted to see more things happen. It was nice to see Willa's journey however I'd like to see her relationships with her son's flourish or find out how she ended up once she got home to Tucson. There was a little blurb right at the very end what she was planning to do but I felt like I needed more to be satisfied with the ending. I just felt like pieces were missing and I felt like there's so many questions I have!

I'll be interested to hear what other readers have to say about this when we discuss during the B&N meeting but overall this was just OK for me.
Profile Image for Brandice.
855 reviews
May 28, 2019
I loved Clock Dance, a story about the continuous quest of learning who you truly are, and determining what’s next.

Willa grew up with a moody mom and a docile dad. She helped raise her younger sister, Elaine, when her mom periodically stepped out of the house without warning. Willa is a good child, a responsible rule follower, and a peacemaker. She eventually marries her college boyfriend and has two sons, then becomes a widow when the boys are teenagers.

Now in 2017, as a remarried wife in Arizona, she received an unexpected call asking her to come care for her 9-year old granddaughter, Cheryl, whose mom, Denise, was shot in Baltimore. As it turns out, Denise is the ex-girlfriend of Sean, one of Willa’s sons. Though she has no grandchildren, has never met Denise or Cheryl, and isn’t particularly close with her sons, something compels Willa to say yes, so she flies across the country with her husband, Peter, in tow.

Willa is a kind and good person, a people-pleaser, only wanting what’s best for everyone, doing whatever she can to pitch in and help make things happen. She was a bit naive in general, but I found it hard not to like her, because of her genuine spirit.

I loved Cheryl. I thought she was a sweet girl, yearning for some form of a traditional family, which I think is natural at the age of 9. I also loved her direct nature and how she didn’t miss a beat when talking with her mom. I found her commentary to be entertaining.

While each part of the book served as background to the present day story, and helped demonstrate who Willa really is, the most current piece in 2017 was by far my favorite. I enjoyed the story and all of the characters were well-developed. It’s clear Anne Tyler understands people - She did a great job building authentic characters, not without flaws, and creating realistic dialogue between them. Clock Dance is a story about people, next chapters, and staying true to oneself.
Profile Image for Mary Lins.
843 reviews116 followers
May 21, 2018
Full disclosure: I’d call myself Anne Tyler’s “Number One Fan” if that line wasn’t so creepy (thanks a lot, Stephen King). So it’s no surprise that I adored “Clock Dance” and want everyone in the world to read it, and ALL of Tyler’s stellar oeuvre.

I’m not the only fan who has called Tyler the “Jane Austen of our time”; the comparisons are obvious: beautiful writing, accessibility, colorful characters, perfectly pitched dialogue, and a focus on domestic stories. And woe be to anyone who considers “domestic stories” a lesser literary form, for it is in these stories of quotidian family life, punctuated by human drama, that we most recognize ourselves and develop empathy for others. If you never read a novel about the human condition, how would you learn to appreciate other people’s perspectives?

Ok – to the review: “Clock Dance” is about Willa Drake who finally “wakes up” to her life. We first meet Willa in 1967 at age 11, on a day that her mother has “run away from home” yet again. Willa, Dad Melvin, and 6 year old sister Elaine, try to “act normal”. In 1967 you might describe Willa’s mom, Alice, as “tempestuous”, “high strung”, or “mercurial” – today you might diagnose Bi-polar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.

The first half of the novel describes the few life-changing moments/decisions in Willa’s life in 1977 and 1997 - short sections, to set the stage and establish Willa’s character. We root for Willa throughout but it’s clear that she is “sleep-walking” through her life. It is in the second half of the novel, set in the present (2017), that Willa makes a bold decision to help a young single mother. That decision becomes the “wake-up Willa, call” and provides her a door to a different future than the path she was on. Will she walk through that door?

As in each and every Anne Tyler novel, there is a cast of characters that you will fall in love with and miss after you close the last page. Her characters are what make her novels SO “re-read-able” to me. I never read one just once.
Profile Image for Bkwmlee.
383 reviews254 followers
June 27, 2018
This is my first time reading Anne Tyler and it certainly won’t be my last! I like this author’s style – the way she is able to take everyday, mundane events and turn them into an interesting story, yet still keep the overall tone low-key, subtle, and rooted in reality. The story is divided into 4 major segments that highlight 4 particular “defining moments” in the life of the main character Willa Drake -- starting in 1967 when she is 11 years old, we get a glimpse of what her childhood was like and how her family environment helped shape the kind of person she would become; then the story jumps to 1977, when Willa is in college and faces a major life decision in the form of a marriage proposal; then it jumps to 20 years later, in 1997, when Willa is faced with yet another life-changing event, widowhood at the young age of 41 and having to figure out how to move forward with her 2 teenage sons; and finally, 2017 when Willa is 61 years old, remarried (to a man whose personality is similar to her first husband in so many ways), retired and contemplating her lot in life when she gets a phone call about her son’s ex-girlfriend and impulsively flies to Baltimore. Through these vignette-like “observations” into her life at various stages, we get to know Willa on a deeper level and by the end of the book, she has become like a dear friend whom we just finished spending quality time with. Granted, I didn’t always agree with Willa’s decisions and honestly, at times her passiveness and tolerance for things she shouldn’t have tolerated really frustrated me, but I still liked her as a character and enjoyed being in her company, even if only for a short few days (the amount of time it took me to read the book). The character development is definitely well-done in here, and not just with Willa but also with the other characters, even some of the ones who only make a brief appearance. I enjoy reading about characters that are relatable, which many times means that they also have to be realistic and yes, sometimes even “ordinary,” – a character that may not necessarily have much excitement going on in their lives, but yet encounter interesting enough moments where a story like this never once comes across as boring.

As other reviewers have said, the story here is simple as well as subtle and not much goes on outside of normal, everyday stuff, yet at no point did I feel the story drag. In the beginning, when I found out this would be a “slice of life” type of story, I was a little worried, as I usually don’t take to these types of stories too well – I prefer a continuous story where I am able to see the main character’s growth and gradual development. This book was very different from other “slice of life” books I’ve read in that this one went deeper in terms of characterization as well as emotional depth and to me at least, the transitions from one time period to another were seamless. I’ve heard that Anne Tyler is a masterful writer and I can definitely see why. I’m sure that the next time I am in the mood for a quiet, yet meaningful read with characters that are relatable and easy to connect with, I will be picking up one of Tyler’s other novels to enjoy!

Received ARC from Knopf Publishing via Penguin First to Read program.
Profile Image for Emily B.
426 reviews419 followers
February 1, 2022
Anne Tyler books have become my go to audiobooks for listening to when I’m walking to work.

This was easy listening. Tyler creates a rich family world with such distinct characters that you can’t help but be drawn in.

The thing I wasn’t sure about was the way the novel was divided up.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews668 followers
August 3, 2018
This was close to classic Anne Tyler for me.  She has such a feel for family dynamics, their foibles and shortcomings, their strengths and disappointments.  I liked Willa, we all know someone like her.  A good person, mild-mannered, apt to be taken for granted.  Here, she is struggling for some semblance of a meaningful life beyond that for which she has settled.  She will be presented with a most unlikely way to find it.  

Although these are not spoilers in the truest sense, you might prefer to come across them as you read. 
Profile Image for Tucker.
385 reviews106 followers
August 30, 2018
“Clock Dance” tells the story of middle aged Willa, a woman who has spent her life being the “good girl” and fulfilling her family’s expectations. But Willa is jolted out of that existence when she receives an unexpected phone call. Her response to that call is the first step in Willa’s journey away from her compliant, responsible, and endlessly accommodating existence to a life where she can begin to satisfy her own needs and wants. This would be a great book club read and the message of caring for others without sacrificing the pursuit of our own purpose and meaning is an empowering one.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,252 reviews451 followers
July 17, 2018
Even a middling Anne Tyler book is better than a lot of modern fiction. Compared to some of her other novels, this is not one of my favorites, mainly because I had a hard time relating to Willa, the main character. During an argument with another character, she is accused of being "so cheery and polite and genteel and superficial". Aha, I thought, my feelings exactly. She was always trying to apologize and diffuse situations. I know some women like this, and they irritate me. Get real! Take a stand! Make some decisions! Late in the book she is told by an elderly widower that his late wife always claimed that her idea of Hell would be marrying Gandhi. "Think about it: Gandhi was always the good one. Everyone else always looked so rude and loud and self-centered by comparison".

Anne Tyler knows her characters, she is a genius at dialogue. Her situations are real, nothing that stretches the imagination, and we can see ourselves in every paragraph. That's what I love about her novels, they can be counted on when you need a slice of life to bring you down to earth.

Willa does finally decide to have it her way, late in the book. The ending is abrupt, but, I thought, wonderful. She took a stand, she got real, she made some decisions.

I feel guilty giving this only 3 stars, but I'm judging it against other of her books that I loved more. I blame it all on Willa.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,167 reviews1,639 followers
July 6, 2018
If I had to choose an author to write my own life story, it would be Anne Tyler. She suffuses her quirky characters with so much compassion and understanding that they come alive on the page.

In Clock Dance, familiar themes emerge: the woman who must leave home to find herself (Ladder of Years), the emotional distancing of children (Dinner in the Homesick Restaurant), the difference in marital styles (The Amateur Marriage). Those who love Anne Tyler—and I do—will rejoice in all the familiar nuances of her oeuvre: eccentric yet familiar characters, baffling children, happened-upon marriages, the Baltimore setting and the dichotomy between confinement and freedom, security and self-worth.

In Clock Dance—another quixotic novel about self-discovery in later years—Anne Tyler introduces Willa, whose defining moment range from her erratic mother’s bolting from the house, her marriage proposal at a young age, and much later in life, a surprise phone call regarding her son’s discarded and temporarily hospitalized girlfriend and the nine-year-old daughter that the neighbor assumes is her granddaughter.

What follows is a familiar ecosystem of zany friends and neighbors as Willa begins to slowly recognize some self-truths. The biggest challenge she faces is how to embrace the possibilities of her life that has been too often defined for her. What would Willa’s own clock dance look like? “…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.” Now in her 70s, Anne Tyler still imparts lessons about the glory of living. As long as she keeps writing, I’ll keep reading.

Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,219 reviews2,049 followers
September 1, 2019
I am a fan of Anne Tyler's writing but this was not, for me anyway, one of her best. Her work is always character driven and not action packed, but Clock Dance seemed to ramble over a long period of time and not achieve very much. Maybe it was because I had no feelings for Willa and therefore was not able to feel involved in the little things in her life.

Of course there were major events too which helped to form Willa's personality and made her subordinate to all the men in her life ( two overbearing husbands and two uncaring sons). This all seemed all too real but when she finally broke out and underwent a kind of transformation I applauded it but was not convinced.

All in all a pleasant, well written read but not one I will add to my favourites list.

Shelved as 'dnf'
July 26, 2018
I am giving up with this book. I have read a few of Anne Tyler's books and liked them. However, this one and I are just not jelling. So, I am quitting at page 203 feeling that I did give it a good go. Some books are just not for everyone. I need to remember that always.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,042 reviews902 followers
July 31, 2019
Delightful - that's the word that best describes how I felt about this novel.

I'm always struck by the writers' ability to come up with crazy plots, including secrets with all sort of twists and turns. Those books are exciting. I'm even more impressed by authors who write stories about ordinary people, doing everyday, average people things. I guess I take comfort from other people's ordinariness? I'm not quite sure what it is that makes me appreciate these quaint, domestic novels so much, it must be the characters, as regardless of the genre, I always like novels with well-developed characters, people who are nuanced and flawed.

It's been established long ago that Anne Tyler is brilliant at creating very realistic characters. Her latest offering is a great example of what an astute people observer she is.
I ended up loving Willa Drake, the heroine of this novel. Deep down I wished I had more of her looking through rose-glasses personality. She may have come across as a bit of a push-over, with her cheerful disposition, willingness to please, making sure never to ruffle any feathers. She's a kind person, interesting in a non-showy way, but like many women, she put her kids and husband(s) ahead of her needs and dreams.

Despite some sad moments, Clock Dance is an upbeat novel. Its tone and the story itself are optimistic. The cast of characters warmed my heart.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,643 followers
July 31, 2018
This book started off really strong with an intense plot and several flashforwards that made the story compelling and alluring. In chapter one, we meet Willa and her sister who have once again been abandoned by their tempestuous mother. Their father doesn't really want to confide in them what has happened this time around, so it's up to Willa and her younger sister to continue living their lives while desperately missing their mother.
Once again, Anne Tyler has written a book which shows that she is excellent at writing characters! The several jumps forward in time added to my interest in the characters; however, midway through the book Anne Tyler stops the narrative and lets it focus on one time, one setting, and the same characters. I wouldn't be able to tell you why! After having finished "Clock Dance", this is still the question I'm struggling with. To me, it doesn't make sense that Anne Tyler felt the need to frame the story in flashforwards in the first part, and then have no flashforwards in the second part. The story in itself just doesn't give me enough of a clue as to why that is.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book because of its characters and its STRONG beginning. But I AM beginning to wonder whether Anne Tyler is still one of my favourite authors after all...
Profile Image for da AL.
366 reviews364 followers
March 22, 2019
Rare indeed is a novel that opens us up to our potential to redefine ourselves at any age. Tyler paints the human spirit, warts and all, as capable of continuous growth. Audiobook performer Kimberly Farr, moreover, is golden.
Profile Image for j e w e l s.
309 reviews2,366 followers
August 8, 2018
Lately, I've gone through a very fast run of mediocre audio books. I'm sure these books are perfectly fine to read in print, but they absolutely did not work for me to listen to and in most cases, I did not listen very long. Either the narrators are no bueno or the format of the book does not lend itself well to audio.

I want to keep a list, so I won't try them again on audio.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,687 reviews451 followers
December 5, 2019
Willa learned to smooth things over with her volatile mother, and be a responsible big sister at a young age. She found that she was still doing what other people expected when she moved away from her friends to a home near an Arizona golf course so her husband could enjoy his hobby in semi-retirement.

Then Willa received a phone call from a woman in Baltimore, a neighbor of her son's ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend was in the hospital and her daughter, Cheryl, needed a caregiver. The neighbor mistakenly thought that Willa was Cheryl's grandmother. Willa always wanted grandchildren so she jumped at the chance to travel to Baltimore. Willa bonds with Cheryl, the dog, and the quirky neighbors. She loved feeling needed, and part of the neighborhood.

The book asks the question, "What do you live for?" It also asks how people cope when a loved one dies, and what makes up a family. The answer will be different for each individual, and Willa was on her way to discovering the answers.

Although this is not Anne Taylor's best book, it was still enjoyable because she has such a good understanding of human nature, and uses gentle humor. "Clock Dance" was a charming look at an older woman as she re-invents herself while moving on to another stage in her life. 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Charles Finch.
Author 26 books2,282 followers
July 10, 2018
From USA Today


Family is the way some of us understand the world. Not the self, not society – but the little malleable confederation that lies between the two.

Anne Tyler, one of this country’s great artists, has spent 50 years and more than 20 novels on the subject, her beautiful, understated, humane tales so similar in shape and voice that taken together they have come to seem like a subtle and sublime mania, the author explaining the same idea to herself over and over again, marveling anew each time at its mysteries.

“Clock Dance,” her latest novel (Knopf, 292 pp., ★★★½ out of four), concerns Willa, a typical Tyler protagonist, which is to say decent, wry, middle class, and basically bewildered. The book begins with three long episodes from her life (Tyler has been experimenting more with jumps in time recently), before the narrative slips into the present.

Willa is living in Arizona when she hears that her son’s ex-girlfriend in Baltimore has been shot in the leg. Can Willa come and take care of the woman’s daughter? Nobody else is around. The answer should of course be "no," and of course Willa, full of indistinct yearning, says "yes."

In the shabby-respectable neighborhood where her son’s ex lives, she immediately finds a surprising sense of community. There’s her non-granddaughter most importantly, a precise, pensive, tender girl, but also a modest doctor, a shy teenager, a dog named Airplane. Willa’s real family – husband, sons – are cavalier to the point of cruelty with her; these new people need her, and set about rescuing her, in typical Tylerian fashion, from her own manners.

Willa’s son Sean, for example, barely makes time to see her. Nor does he offer to pick her up before dinner, and Willa explains to his ex-girlfriend that she hasn’t asked – she’d hoped he might offer.

“But why just hope?” her new acquaintance asks. “Why do you go at things so slantwise?”

Tyler loves to force her characters into direct confrontation with their unspoken hopes, away from their slantwise instincts. She’s an artful symbolist (take the running family card game in “Breathing Lessons,” for instance) and in Willa’s case her magnanimously abandoned gift for linguistics comes to seem increasingly meaningful as she finds, in Baltimore, her own speech.

Here and there in “Clock Dance” the paint shows through – secondary characters are wispy, some of the beats a little pat. But it’s a powerful, stirring work. Tyler has lost none of the inspired grace of her prose, nor her sad, frank humor, nor her limitless sympathy for women who ask for little and get less.

I often find myself reading this author’s books in fits and starts at the beginning, then rushing through their second halves in heedless absorption, and I’ve finally decided it’s because almost all of her stories begin in sorrow and end in hope.

Again and again Tyler asks the same thing: What was all that business, all those parents, children, brothers, sisters? What did it mean? For Willa, the question arrives early in life, and the answer late. But it comes.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,570 followers
July 16, 2018
A few years back I read a rare interview with Anne Tyler in which she described getting together with her lady friends of a certain age to watch The Wire and experience how some other Baltimore residents live. The gangs-and-drugs world of The Wire, of course, could hardly be more different from the safe semi-suburban spaces Tyler’s characters inhabit. However, if you’ve heard one thing about Tyler’s new novel, Clock Dance, her twenty-second, I expect it’s that a character gets shot. Finally, a realistic look at the condition of Baltimore, I thought!

To my frustration, though, Tyler does just what she did in her previous novel, the Booker-shortlisted A Spool of Blue Thread, and immediately defuses what could have been a hot-button issue. Sure, her characters have dysfunctional family problems aplenty, but nothing ever gets too out of hand. So in Spool son Denny’s confession that he thinks he’s gay is never given serious consideration, and in Clock Dance the Chekhovian gun we (perhaps) encounter early on in the novel does indeed return to be used in the contemporary-set section, but – and I’m sorry if this strikes you as a spoiler – it’s only a shot in the leg, the result of some kids playing around with a gun, and the unwitting victim is fine.

Essentially Clock Dance is three stories followed by a short novel: glimpses into four periods of Willa Drake’s life. In 1967 she’s 11 and her angry mother Alice, who’s reminiscent of Pearl Tull from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, gets fed up and leaves – but soon comes back. (You see what I mean about dangling life-changing traumas in front of us but then instantly neutralizing them?) In 1977 Willa is a college junior and flies home over spring break to introduce her boyfriend to her parents. He wants her to give up her linguistic studies and join him in California, where he has a job. On to 1997, when Willa suddenly becomes a widow and has to learn to survive one day at a time. Fast forward to 2017, when the remarried Willa, now based in Arizona, gets a call informing her that her son’s ex-girlfriend has been shot and she needs to come look after her and her daughter and dog in Baltimore.

It’s somewhat ironic that I just read Breathing Lessons earlier in the summer: Clock Dance is awfully similar to Tyler’s 1988 Pulitzer winner in that both protagonists are trying to make things right with their daughter-in-law and granddaughter figures. In Willa’s case, her son never married Denise and isn’t the father of nine-year-old Cheryl, but Willa still feels a grandmotherly concern and, as she seems to be the only person the neighbor knew to call in an emergency, she agrees to fly out with her second husband, a humorless retired lawyer and golfer named Peter. They will stay in Denise’s home on Dorcas Road in Baltimore for as long as she is in the hospital. Peter is impatient with the situation, but Willa feels purposeful for the first time in years, and before long she’s starting to think about Dorcas Road, with its lovably quirky set of neighbors, as home. Could she make her own useful life here?

Tyler is surprisingly good on modern children and technology, and there are some terrific individual scenes, like the fairly awkward dinner Willa has with her elder son, Sean, and Elissa, the woman he left Denise for. But at times the dialogue didn’t ring true for me, with some 1950s vocabulary like darn, gosh, pussyfoot, hoodlum, and jeepers, plus (I checked this in the Kindle book) a whopping 188 sentences start with some variation on “Well, …” That works out to more than once every other page, a tic Tyler’s editor should have ironed out.

The U.S. edition of Clock Dance, which features a cactus on the cover, tries to make more of the partial Arizona setting, though most of the book is set in Tyler’s familiar small-town Pennsylvania and Baltimore. Willa admires saguaro cacti – “She loved their dignity, their endurance” – and Peter also buys one from the hospital gift shop, as a sort of symbol of resilience and adaptation to one’s surroundings. The U.K. cover, by contrast, goes for nostalgic Americana.

The story behind the title: Cheryl and friends perform what they call a “clock dance,” wherein two girls stand behind a third and they all move their arms in rhythmic jerks like a clock face. Willa imagines her own ‘clock dance’ would be a mad whirl from stage left to right: a race against time. Her efforts to redirect her life before it’s too late are heartening, but overall I didn’t sense strong enough themes in this novel; in particular, I would have preferred if Tyler had been consistent in checking in with Willa every decade and making each vignette truly count. (An early Tyler novel is called The Clock Winder, but I imagine the similarity in the titles is just incidental.)

Of the eight Tyler novels I’ve read so far, here’s how I’d rank them (from best to least good). You’ll see that this latest one falls somewhere in the middle.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
The Accidental Tourist
Breathing Lessons
Vinegar Girl
Clock Dance
Back When We Were Grown-ups
A Blue Spool of Thread
The Beginner’s Goodbye

Originally published, with images, on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book486 followers
September 15, 2018
In many ways this is a typical Anne Tyler book. The characters are quirky but they make up a community that somehow works. But, unlike most of Tyler’s other books, this main character, Willa, just never connected for me. I felt as if I was standing outside watching instead of inside sharing Willa’s life. This just didn’t have the magic of her earlier novels like Saint Maybe and Breathing Lessons, and I don’t expect it to remain with me the way A Spool of Blue Thread did.

I still love Anne Tyler. She has a canon of work worth reading and she has given the world some of the coolest, kookiest, loveable characters in American literature. I don’t think the Baltimore of her imagination exists any more, but I like to think it once did. This isn’t her greatest achievement, but it is still worth the read.

Profile Image for Reneesarah.
92 reviews4 followers
July 22, 2018
I have read several reviews by people who loved this book. I could barely make myself read it until the end. Reading all those positive reviews I did wonder: Is it me? Is there something I am not getting here? Perhaps there is something I am not getting, and yet I will stay true to my opinion about the book. I found it tedious and dull and was ever so glad to finish it. It is a book club selection for Barnes and Noble and I was determined to get through it. Doing so was just about as pleasant as a dental appointment.

I never did care about Willa. She is so boring and wishy-washy. I understand we are supposed to be engaged by her transition from a life of deference to finally putting herself and what she wants first- in her 60's. Except for his annoying habit of calling her "little one" I had quite a bit of sympathy for her husband: What on earth do you think you are doing flying to Baltimore to take care of your son's ex-girlfriend's child while she recovers from a gunshot wound? And if you are going to insist on making this ridiculous trip- why stay so overlong?

There are whole long passages about trivial events that are really mind-numbingly boring. "Who the hell cares about this?!" my inner critic said repeatedly. I surely didn't.
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