In brief: Willa’s life has been defined by people she loves leaving. She’s tried to make them happy, but when a stranger asks her to help out another stranger, she says yes and finds her own happiness.
The good: It’s Anne Tyler – finding beauty in the small things.
The not-so-good: Willa really gets short changed by others.
Why I chose it: Really enjoy Anne Tyler’s novels – so relaxing.
Publisher: Chatto & Windus (Penguin)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Anne Tyler is the kind of author who can make even the smallest domestic drama absolutely fascinating. She can take a well-worn family scenario and help the reader to view it through a new lens. Her novels are without a fault, relaxing and enjoyable, forcing me to slow down.
Clock Dance is the story of Willa, someone who has always done something to please others without considering herself. The novel takes the reader through two of these events in Willa’s earlier life, when her mother disappeared and when her parents first met her boyfriend followed by the later death of that boyfriend, now husband. Fast forward to the present, and Willa is married again but at a loose end. Her new husband lives for his ‘semi-retired’ work and the gold course and her children are distant. So when Willa receives a phone call from a stranger pleading her to look after her son’s ex-girlfriend’s daughter (who she has never met), she agrees to the surprise of all those who think they know her. Willa and her husband fly to Baltimore to look after Cheryl while mother Denise is in hospital after being shot. Willa finds more community, friendship and openness in that neighbourhood than she’s ever seen. Looking after Cheryl is a pleasure, as is feeling needed by others. Will Willa go back to her old life, or is she ready to do what she wants?
As always with Anne Tyler’s novels, the characters are an utter delight. Willa has chosen to go with the flow after being scarred as a young girl (and feeling that giving in, equals an easier life). But inside, there is still a woman with her own drive, feelings and needs and it’s lovely to see her grow into the person that’s been hiding behind others for years. Cheryl and Denise’s neighbours are a motley bunch, all with their individual quirks, right down to the roaming cat. But these characters all have wisdom where the men in Willa’s life have failed – they notice her and are grateful for any assistance she offers. To them, she is a real person, while previously Willa has been a shadow to her husbands. Willa’s coming of age might be much later than is trendy, but it’s still lovely to see.
So much has been said of Anne Tyler’s writing and all of the good things are true. She’s an author not to be missed (and she has a terrific backlist).