Clock Dance

Anne Tyler

Clock Dance
Vintage Publishing
United Kingdom
16 July 2019

Clock Dance

Anne Tyler

Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life - her mother’s disappearance when she was just a child, being proposed to at an airport at the age of twenty-one, the accident that would leave her a widow in her forties. Each time, Willa ended up on a path laid out for her by others.

So when she receives a phone call from a stranger informing her that her son’s ex-girlfriend has been shot, 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 leads Willa into uncharted territory and the eventual realisation that it’s never too late to choose your own path.

‘She is and always will be my favourite author’ - Liane Moriarty


A few years ago, there was a rumour going around that there wouldn’t be any more stories from Anne Tyler. She was threatening to retire from writing – after fifty-plus years, twenty novels and a Pulitzer Prize, there was going to be no more! I was dismayed. If I’m in a slump, and when nothing else will do, she’s my default solution. Reading her prose is like hitting a reset button. It’s a reminder of what great writing should be: straightforward and unpretentious. Thankfully this rumour was a furphy, an unfortunate misquote.

Tyler writes small-scale domestic dramas and Clock Dance, her twenty-second novel, is no exception. Willa Drake is eleven when her mother disappears. She and her sister don’t know if their mother is coming home, neither does their father. Willa’s twenty-one when her boyfriend, Derek, proposes to her. On a plane trip home one Easter, the man next to Willa jabs her in the ribs, telling her that he has a gun. Willa does nothing. When she tells Derek about it later, he thinks the story is unlikely. At forty-one, Willa becomes a widow with two teenage sons. She later marries Peter. Willa’s son Sean describes Peter as a ‘difficult man’, he ‘huffs and puffs and quibbles’. Willa’s life is steered by others.

When Sean’s ex-girlfriend, Denise, is shot, Willa receives a phone call asking if she can help look after Denise’s nine-year-old daughter, Cheryl, and her dog, Airplane. For the first time Willa does something spontaneous. She leaves her home to fly across the country to look after strangers. In doing so she meets different people that bring new experiences and meaning.

Clock Dance is a beautiful, understated novel. It’s a reminder that life can steer us into some wonderful experiences if we are willing to change direction from time to time.

Jason Austin is a book buyer at Readings Carlton.

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