Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pub. Date: July 10, 2018
“Clock Dance,” the latest novel by the author Anne Tyler, affectionately known as the bard of Baltimore, is filled with her familiar themes and quirky characters, but it is not up to par with her earlier works. The gist of the book is that the heroine has four defining moments of her life, which is categorized into four years. The reader only gets flashing glimpses of the first three defining moments, which is part-one. I found this annoying. Characters come and go as if they are walk-ons in a play. However, once the novel is completed, the reader will get what Tyler was up to— a slow start with a strong finish. I enjoyed the novel though I am not sure that the threadbare writing, which she is known for, isn’t too bare in part-one.
Part I: In 1967, our heroine is a schoolgirl wondering what happened to her unstable mom who has disappeared. She is too young and frightened to cope. In 1977, she is a college student flying home with her bossy fiancé. Suddenly, on the plane, the man sitting on the other side of her whispers, “This is a gun, and it’s loaded. Move and I shoot.” Once again she is too frightened to act. When the flight is over the man just gets up and leaves. She informs her soon to be husband what happened, and although she is shaking with fear, he tells her that she is being histrionic and that “all’s well that ends well.” She agrees. (This was hard to buy, because although she is subservient, she is not stupid.) In 1997, she is a young widow too traumatized to do what needs to be done to move forward. In 2017, she is married, once again to another bossy man who patronizes her. By this time in her life, she is way too timid, mild-mannered and insecure in her abilities to handle almost any situation by herself. She is more than willing to be a passive bystander in her own life. As a female reviewer, I wanted to jump into the pages and scream at her to grow a spine.
Part II continues in 2017, it is the bulk of the book and where all its strength lay. But by this time, I was almost ready to give up on our heroine. Which I wonder is what the author intended the reader to feel. But, in 2017, our heroine surprises us. She finally takes a stand in her own life and learns she is cable of making not only the simplest of decisions but the major ones as well. For fear of spoiling, I will not share how her wake-up happens, but it is almost comical. As usual, Tyler’s warmth for her characters shines through. I am a fan of the author. Still, I almost ditched the novel. If Tyler did intend for a slow start, hoping that it would pay off in the second half of the book, then she made a heck of a gamble. Or, maybe part-one was not written to be intentionally maddening. Possibly, Tyler didn’t realize just how frustrating part-one actually read. Though, this is also hard to buy since Tyler is a Pulitzer Prize winner. No matter, either way, I am glad I read her latest work. Though I am not sure other readers will feel the same. Still, I recommend the novel to fans of literary fiction.
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