‘Clock Dance’ an emotional journey through the ages

Sunny Solomon Book Review(June 26, 2022) — I cannot think of an Anne Tyler book I have not liked, and although “Clock Dance” threw me off for a bit, Tyler is still a novelist I will never hesitate to read.

What I like most about Tyler’s novels are her attention-grabbing characters. They are very ordinary people worthy of novelhood, and “Clock Dance” is no exception.

The Drake family is not at all atypical of families of the 1960s. Dad is a high school shop teacher, a pleasant man who will put up with almost anything to not rock the boat, which includes making excuses for his wife’s most unpleasant and mercurial personality. Theirs is a family with no discernible ground rules for a balanced, healthy life.

We meet protagonist Willa Drake, who is anxious to sell candy for a school music program but desperately does not want to do the selling. There is a tussle between her and her best friend. Willa gives in, and it is she who rings the first doorbell. The sale does not go well.

Willa returns home, expecting to see her mother, but instead her father explains that her mother “will not be joining us.” We do not know what caused her to leave and are uncertain as to her return. Mom is smart and pretty but emotionally unreliable, including physical abuse.

In 1977, Willa is in her junior year of college. She is pretty and smart, like her mother. She meets and falls in love with Derek, a senior. He wants to marry Willa when he graduates, but Willa wants to graduate first.


The boy is a fast talker and before the reader knows it, the year is 1997. They are driving to a party that Willa would rather not attend and arguing about their two teenage sons. Derek is speeding, annoyed with a slow-moving vehicle ahead of them. This causes a serious collision.

Willa is both injured and now a widow. She does not place the blame on her husband, instead, blames herself for arguing. Another un-rocked boat.

Flash-forward to 2017. She is remarried and living the life her new husband has chosen for them. A new set of crisis circumstances is front and center and, once again, Willa takes the road most traveled, giving her all for others. She is a good and kind person whom this reader wanted to throttle. Would she never stand up for herself?

Tyler’s writing shines in “Clock Dance” with events and characters we recognize, empathize with and even admire. But it is Willa for whom we root.

Not rocking the boat may keep waters calm, but Willa’s life isn’t going any place in still waters. Her boat has been floating for a long, long time. How Tyler ends the story with such finesse is pure genius – second to last page and a reader might even miss it.
“Clock Dance,” what a neat novel.

Visit Sunny Solomon’s website at bookinwithsunny.com for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’

Sunny Solomon
Sunny Solomon
Freelance writer at Clayton Book Club | Website

Sunny Solomon holds an MA in English/Creative Writing, San Francisco State University. She is a book reviewer for “The Clayton Pioneer” and her poetry and other writing has been published in literary journals, one chapbook, In the Company of Hope and the collection, Six Poets Sixty-six Poems. She was the happy manager of Bonanza Books, Clayton, CA and Clayton Books, Clayton, CA. She continues to moderate a thriving book club that survived the closure of the store from which it began. Sunny currently lives next to the Truckee in Reno, NV.