cover image Clock Dance

Clock Dance

Anne Tyler. Knopf, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-52122-8

Pulitzer winner Tyler (following A Spool of Blue Thread) takes a bittersweet, hope-filled look at quirky families that have broken or are trying to recreate themselves. Plaintive Willa’s birth family—rebellious sister Elaine, long-suffering dad Melvin, and “tempestuous” and abusive mom Alice—is fractured, and at 61 Willa is confronted with lonely Baltimore single mom Denise and her precocious, love-starved daughter, Cheryl. The novel’s first half offers snapshots of Willa, at 11 in 1967; at 21, as she reluctantly agrees to marry her college sweetheart, Derek; and as a new widow at 44. The narrative then jumps to 2017, when Willa, now married to stuffy retiree Peter, gets a breathless call to come to Baltimore to help take care of Cheryl, the young daughter of her son’s recent ex-girlfriend, as Cheryl’s mom, Denise, recovers from a mysterious shot in the leg. There, Willa settles amiably in a neighborhood of misfits, hooligans, and steely survivors—and explores her own family miseries. The cast of sharply drawn characters dominates in ways both reflective and raucous across a series of emotional events, such as Willa’s baffling encounter with a would-be hijacker, a heartbreaking moment with her elderly dad, and the jolting advice she receives from a kindhearted doctor. It’s a stellar addition to Tyler’s prodigious catalogue. 250,000-copy announced first printing. (July) Correction: this review was edited for clarity.