Reading an Anne Tyler novel is like eating an Oreo cookie. It’s predictable, consistently chocolate and always satisfying without competing for any great culinary baking stars. Her latest book “Clock Dance” has all the usual ingredients—a baby boomer woman, a reckoning around home and family and it’s partially baked in Baltimore, Maryland, a familiar setting for Tyler novels.
Willa Drake is the older of two sisters born into a typical family of the 1960s. Her father is steady, solid and the salt of the earth. Her mother, on the other hand, is more high-strung and ‘passionate’, prone to fits of anger and mood swings that regularly leave the family confused and hurt. Willa is frequently put in the position of having to be the ‘mother’ to keep the family functioning.
In college she starts dating Derek, deemed to be a good catch. When he wants to get married before she graduates, she’s reluctant but in the interests of not rocking the boat, she acquiesces and embarks on a predictable life of babies, working and getting on with life. By the time her two sons are ready for college, her husband is killed in a road rage incident. Willa’s life is naturally lonely after she’s widowed. When her sons leave home they maintain only minimal contact with their mother and their lifestyle choices are very different from her own. She remarries in an act of acquiescence disguised as optimism.
One day she receives a telephone call from the neighbour of her older son Sean’s ex-girlfriend, Denise. Denise was accidentally shot and her hospitalization leaves a nine-year-old daughter without a caregiver. Even though the child is not Sean’s, Willa feels obliged to travel from Arizona to Baltimore to temporarily care for the child. Her new husband grudgingly accompanies her but does not share her generous nature and ultimately returns home to Arizona. Willa develops a bond with the fatherless (and temporarily motherless) little girl and soon becomes part of their eccentric little community.
I didn’t find this book as engaging as Tyler’s earlier A Spool of Blue Thread but it was a nice way to pass the time. Willa’s passivity and general “goodness” at times made me want to scream “Grow some backbone” but that was Willa’s character as defined by Tyler and she’s not me. Anne Tyler’s books are always a good read. It’s a pleasant way to pass the time. I’d give it 7 out of 10.