Summary and book reviews of Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Clock Dance

A Novel

by Anne Tyler

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler X
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
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  • Published:
    Jul 2018, 304 pages

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Book Summary

A delightful novel of one woman's transformative journey, from the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life. In 1967, she is a schoolgirl coping with her mother's sudden disappearance. In 1977, she is a college coed considering a marriage proposal. In 1997, she is a young widow trying to piece her life back together. And in 2017, she yearns to be a grandmother but isn't sure she ever will be. Then, one day, Willa receives a startling phone call from a stranger. Without fully understanding why, she flies across the country to Baltimore to look after a young woman she's never met, her nine-year-old daughter, and their dog, Airplane. This impulsive decision will lead Willa into uncharted territory--surrounded by eccentric neighbors who treat each other like family, she finds solace and fulfillment in unexpected places. A bewitching novel of hope, self-discovery, and second chances, Clock Dance gives us Anne Tyler at the height of her powers.

2017

The phone call came on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-July. Willa happened to be sorting her headbands. She had laid them out across the bed in clumps of different colors, and now she was pressing them flat with her fingers and aligning them in the compartments of a fabric-covered storage box she'd bought especially for the purpose. Then all at once, ring!

She crossed to the phone and checked the caller ID: a Baltimore area code. Sean had a Baltimore area code. This wasn't Sean's number, though, so of course a little claw of anxiety clutched her chest. She lifted the receiver and said, "Hello?"

"Mrs. MacIntyre?" a woman asked.

Willa had not been Mrs. MacIntyre in over a decade, but she said, "Yes?"

"You don't know me," the woman said. (Not a reassuring beginning.) She had a flat-toned, carrying voice—an overweight voice, Willa thought—and a Baltimore accent that turned "know me" into "Naomi," very nearly. "My name is Callie Montgomery," she said. "I'...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Below are six questions designed to guide your discussion of Anne Tyler's new novel Clock Dance. They are only a starting point, and we hope they'll inspire your group to further conversation about the book and much more.

  1. Why do you think Anne Tyler began the story where she did? What do we learn about Willa by first meeting her as a little girl?
  2. What do you make of the stranger on the plane? How would you respond in Willa's position? In Derek's? Have you ever had an experience that felt like this one? How did you want your family and friends to react?
  3. Why do you think the cactus is so important to Willa? Are there symbols or landmarks in your own life that give you such powerful feelings?
  4. If the book were ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Clock Dance was another winner in a very long list of Anne Tyler novels that I have read. She is right up there at the top of the list of my favorite authors (Jean N). I truly loved this delightful tale and all of the quirky characters in Baltimore (Susan C). A wonderful selection for a book club (Lori H).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Ron Charles, The Washington Post
Tyler's novels may feel too conciliatory toward the strictures of domestic life, too free of erotic energy to be feminist works, but her stories are often concerned with the central challenge of the feminist movement: How to imagine and then inhabit possibilities beyond those circumscribed by convention? As one of Willa's elderly neighbors tells her, 'Figuring out what to live for. That's the great problem at my age.

Connie Ogle, The Star Tribune
The question of whether Willa will return to Arizona provides no real mystery. What drives the novel are Tyler's wonderfully direct and evocative character sketches and dialogue that flows with grace and humor, deceptive in its simplicity. Like all her books, Clock Dance is unfussy but generous. And if it's somewhat less substantial than her rich and glorious family saga A Spool of Blue Thread, well, its heart is in the right place.

Kirkus Reviews
Tyler's characteristic warmth and affection for her characters are engaging as ever. ... Power dynamics are never simple in Tyler's portraits of marriage.

Publishers Weekly
A stellar addition to Tyler's prodigious catalogue ... The cast of sharply drawn characters dominates in ways both reflective and raucous across a series of emotional events.

Booklist
Tyler's bedazzling yet fathoms-deep feel-good novel is wrought with nimble humor, intricate understanding of emotions and family, place and community—and bounteous pleasure in quirkiness, discovery, and renewal ... Brilliant, charming, and book-club-ready.

Reader Reviews

Nancy Emery, retired librarian Sturgeon Bay WI

the Clock Dance
Ann Tyler does it again...another engrossing read that is over all too soon. Basically it is the story of Willa starting out in 1967and progresses through her life in ten and twenty year increments. I found myself relating to her in all the Phases ...   Read More

Bettie T. (Johns Island, SC)

A Woman on Her Way
Keeping in mind that truth is often far stranger than fiction, one has to put aside the main premise of the story, take that leap of faith, and dig into the wonderfully human characters and details that make up Clock Dance. Our main character, Willa...   Read More

Chris, Wisconsin

Vintage Anne Tyler
Like the other books by Anne Tyler that I've read, Clock Dance is a story about ordinary people living mostly very ordinary lives, but told in a way that makes them interesting enough for the reader to keep turning pages and then not wanting the book...   Read More

Lori (Puyallup, WA)

Anne Tyler is a joy to read
I have enjoyed Anne Tyler's writing for many years now and was excited to read Clock Dance. It did not disappoint and exceeded my expectations. The story wound its way gently over the hills and valleys of the character's ordinary but unique ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Baltimore's Storied Past

Baltimore's Washington Monument designed by Robert Mills, completed in 1929Clock Dance, like many of Anne Tyler's novels, takes place in Baltimore, Maryland. The largest city in the state, Baltimore is home to over 600,000 residents, or 2.8 million people including the entire metro area. Located just 40 miles northeast of Washington, D.C. on the Patapsco River close to where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay, it is the second-largest seaport in the Mid-Atlantic region in terms of cargo transported (with Virginia's Port of Norfolk being the largest). The bay opens to the ocean via the 14-mile Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and is a major automobile-shipping hub. It is one of the most naturally-protected harbors in the world; the Delmarva Peninsula shields it from most hurricanes, and the Appalachian Mountains to ...

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