Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

I loved the full-on angst of Anne Tyler’s earlier works, they matched my view of the world, family and relationships at the time. They were complex works of realism that took the reader on an emotional journey not easily forgotten.
Roll forward to 2018 and Tyler still has an eye for family drama and odd relationships but she has mellowed with age and now offers her readers a more forgiving, gentle attitude. Her characters still have issues, they are still the fully developed, quirky individuals of old, but everyone just seems to be a little kinder and a little more aware of their own possible impact on others. 

The character of Willa dominates Clock Dance (Tyler’s 22nd novel).

We get a brief glimpse into her childhood, and as you would expect from Tyler, there is a complex, difficult, selfish mother at the heart of the drama – the kind of personality the rest of the family spends the entire time treading carefully around. The damage ripples through the husband/wife relationship, effects the two children in different ways as they grow up and away from their parents and each other.

Willa’s young adult relationships see her drifting into a marriage with a complex, difficult, selfish man (so completely the opposite of her own father, but oh so the male version of her mother) which then ripples down through onto her relationship with her own children. It’s painful, frustrating and almost inevitable in Anne Tyler’s world.

So when Willa finally does something out of the ordinary, we hope that she is finally going to shake off the compliant habits of her past and embrace a new life.

If I try to think of some common thread, I really think I’m deeply interested in endurance. I don’t think living is easy, even for those of us who aren’t scrounging. It’s hard to get through every day and say there’s a good reason to get up tomorrow. It just amazes me that people do it, and so cheerfully. The clearest way that you can show endurance is by sticking with a family. It’s easy to dump a friend, but you can’t so easily dump a brother. How did they stick together, and what goes on when they do? — all those things just fascinate me.

New York Times, July 5, 2018

One of the young characters in the novel loves a TV show called Space Junk. She describes it as ‘this bunch of total strangers’ who are kidnapped by aliens who ‘take them off to study them’ as they want ‘to learn how families work‘. The perfect explanation of Tyler’s own writing style!

Clock Dance felt more old-fashioned than her previous books, even as she explored her familiar tropes of family, marriage, estranged siblings, chance events and change over time. There was an equal number of family relationships and ‘stranger’ relationships. Tyler seemed to be exploring the idea of individuals, estranged from their families of origin, coming together in a neighbourhood setting, to form a different type of family support network.

Ultimately, though, I wished that Willa had more spunk. Like her father, who was too understanding, too compliant, too forgiving, Willa keeps to the background, not rocking the boat, constantly smoothing the ruffled feathers of others, often at her own expense.

Perhaps one day she will ‘rent a room somewhere‘ and try something new, but perhaps she won’t.

Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant
The Beginner’s Goodbye 

Book 17 of #20BooksofSummer (winter) – drop-in title
21℃ in Sydney
16℃ in Northern Ireland
I read this book during the July #reversereadathon

12 thoughts on “Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

  1. I've been reading Anne Tyler for decades…am especially interested in your comment about her mellowing with age and developing a more forgiving attitude. I'm getting close to the top of the library hold list, so should be reading this before too much longer. The cover above is more appealing to me than the US version.


  2. Now I have to go off and see what the US design looks like :-)Ahhhh, the saguaro cactus….it's actually a more appropriate cover than mine…and I like it because of its relevance to the story.


  3. My favourite is Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant, but I have a friend who thinks it is a kind of water-torture in print! I also enjoyed The Accidental Tourist.Somehow I missed reading Breathing Lessons, but it did win the Pulitzer that year, so it's probably to the same standard as the other 2. I also really liked The Beginner's Goodbye, although as one her later books, it has the more gentle, almost nostalgic feel to it. I've also read The Amateur Marriage with my old book club but can't remember much about it now.


  4. Ha, and finally I have read it and came back to your review, with your reminder (thank you!). A lovely review, I think you’re very right about how she’s mellowed and the familiar character tropes are not as hardened now. But I do think she does something finally: she does make a decision right at the end …


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