Clock Dance

by Anne Tyler

Paperback, 2019




Vintage (2019), Edition: Reprint, 304 pages


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, yet the prospect is dimming. So, when Willa receives a phone call from a stranger, telling her that her son's ex-girlfriend has been shot, she drops everything and flies across the country to Baltimore. The impulsive decision to look after this woman and her nine-year-old daughter will lead Willa into uncharted territory--surrounded by eccentric neighbors, plunged into the rituals that make a community a family, and forced to find solace in unexpected places.… (more)

Media reviews

The Baltimore author’s 22nd book has familiar comforts, but lacks narrative drive
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More predictable and less profound than her most recent full-scale work (the magical A Spool of Blue Thread, 2015), but Tyler’s characteristic warmth and affection for her characters are as engaging as ever.

User reviews

LibraryThing member sleahey
Willa is at loose ends in Arizona, with a husband who doesn't really understand her and two sons who are distant geographically and emotionally. She identifies with the prickly saguaro cactus. When she gets a phone call from a woman she never met, claiming to be a former girlfriend of her son,
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desperately in need of help following an accident, she answers the call and flies to Baltimore. Without even realizing it at first, she becomes a member of the neighborhood family, forming relationships with the quirky folks she comes to know. As usual, Tyler describes people we would like to know because she likes them so much.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
Willa is a very bland, sort of get-along-with-everyone character. She goes from being dominated by her mother, who has some kind of anger management issue, or is possibly bipolar, or something, to being dominated by her both her first and second husbands, both of whom definitely have anger
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management issues. She's got skills (I was shocked about 2/3 of the way through the book when she mentions that she speaks 5 languages) but recently gave up her job teaching ESL to follow her second husband into retirement in Arizona, where she identifies most with the lone saguaro cactus in front of her house.

When she gets a call that her son's ex-girlfriend (whom she never met) has been shot and needs help, she gets on a plane and heads to Baltimore to take care of her and her 9-year-old daughter. Some may think it odd to fly 2200 miles across the country to care for a woman you've never met (and her daughter), but Willa has always been open to suggestion, not to mention that she's totally bored. But in Baltimore, she finally finds a purpose, people who need her, and a community. The only question is whether she also finds the strength to break from her former go-along-to-get-along life and stay in the place and with the people who actually make her happy.
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
Anne Tyler often uses a theme of past dictates present in her books. In this book it is done by using key events in the life of Willa Drake that bring the character into her seventh decade. The first incident is from 1967 when Willa is in elementary school and becomes responsible for her younger
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sister, while her mother disappears for a couple days to spite the mild mannered father. Willa's mother is brash, impetuous and sometimes exceedingly cruel. Her father is polite, mild polite that he won't pick up the phone in mid-ring, This incident causes Willa to reflect on the idiosyncrasies of her own family compared to what is visible of the other families in small town Pennsylvania.

Fast forward ten years when she is coerced by her soon to be fiance', Derek, into bringing him home from college for Easter break. Willa's mother serves roast rabbit for Easter as a cruel pun. Derek is ready to graduate, has a job lined up and wants Willa to marry him now rather than finish out her senior year. There is a standoff between Willa's mother and Derek, which Derek wins. Willa concedes to him.

The next key event takes place when their oldest is ready to leave for college and Derek dies in a car crash which is provoked by his impatience. Then we move to the bulk of the story where Willa has remarried to Peter, yet another man who diminishes her by calling her "little one" and dismissing her thoughts and opinions. Willa receives a call regarding one of her oldest son's former partner who has been shot and her 9 year old daughter needs someone to care for her. The caller mistakenly believes that Willa is the grandmother. At Willa's behest she and Peter fly from Arizona to Baltimore to help care for 9 year old Cheryl and her mother Denise. Peter shows his true colors. The close knit Baltimore neighborhood where they live gives Willa a different view of community, family, and meaning in life through their homespun wisdom.

IMO this is not Tyler's best work. But it's a good enough story to hold your attention for a couple of evenings.
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LibraryThing member fastforward
I really enjoyed the first 100 pages or so as the story moved from Willa as a child, later attending college, and then as a wife and mother. The story however lost me when the action moved to Baltimore with Willa flying there to take care of a little girl as her mother is in the hospital. I found
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most of the characters in the second half of the book annoying and because of that I couldn't really go with the whole story line from that point forward. I liked Willa as a character and enjoyed seeing how her life progressed through the years but those Baltimore characters ruined the story for me. I know I'm in the minority with my opinion as others seemed to really connect with this book which is great. Personally, I didn't care for it other than the first part of the book.

Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy! I was under no obligation to post a review and all views expressed are my honest opinion.
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LibraryThing member wellreadcatlady
Clock Dance is a book about people and not knowing what you want in life, but slowly realizing what your life is right now is not what you want. Willa hasn't been in control of her life since she was a kid to older middle age. When Willa is contacted by accident when one of her son's ex-girlfriends
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needs help after being shot in the leg, she and her husband fly out to a practical strangers house to take care of her daughter and end ups finding reasons to stay longer. This is a light hearted book that is filled with relatable characters and seeing how they came to be the person they are.
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LibraryThing member debkrenzer
I like none of the characters in this book. Wait, I take that back. The inquisitive nine year old Cheryl was okay.

This is the story of a woman, an intelligent woman, who knew five languages and still let herself be bullied all her life. A woman who just wanted to be wanted.

I read this whole book
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and I can think of only two words. Sad and why?

I do have to say thanks to the author for saving us and skipping over the Derek years.

Thanks to First to Read and Penguin for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
3.5 I've read this author for years, her stories won't shake up the world nor cause any great seismic shifts in the Universe. Yet, they are so much about life, people that she treats so ternderly, with so much consideration for the unique individuals they are. Her writings, and this one is no
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exception, appeal because they are familiar. Her characters could be a family member, a friend, or the person one depends on when help is needed. Her unique talent is an insight into the many different ways we live our lives. This novel is very low key, understated, and fits perfectly with Willa. Willa, now 61, is one of those ladies who are there in the background, not demanding, just goes along with the flow seemingly wherever someone wants her to head. She has had two sons, wishes she were closer to them, gave up her career aspirations when she married, was widowed fairly young, and is now married again yo the demanding Peter. She is the person in the background, the one who makes the best of her life choices, causes little fuss, and is there when needed. Until one day, she gets a phone call.........

Reading this book madkes me realize how easily we sometimes give in, how we can absorb and accept things we never thought we could. How they become the new normal. How much simpler it is to just go along, but maybe not as satisfying. I loved the characters Willa meets in this novel, how she risks herself, slowly stepping out of her shell. But once one does, where does one go from there? Well, that's Willas story and she can tell it better.

ARC from Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Clock Dance, by Anne Tyler, narrated by Kimberly Farr
The fateful day in 1967, when Alice Drake, in a state of angry frustration, decides to leave her husband Melvin, and her two children Willa and Elaine, 11 and 6 respectively, making them latchkey kids, temporarily, is a turning point in their
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lives. Willa’s mom was sometimes emotionally unstable and physically abusive. This was an example of her compulsive, sometimes irrational behavior. Willa’s dad, a shop teacher, at the Garrettville High School, was the more stable, patient and serene parent. Willa looks up to him. The whole family, however, suffers from her mother’s thoughtless, uncontrolled rage.
The years pass, and the book picks up in 1977, with little discussion of what occurred in the intervening years. Willa is now in college. She is on her way home to Lark City, Pa, with her boyfriend Derek. Willa’s mom has another of her uncontrolled, angry outbursts when they discuss their future plans, and it too has its consequences on their futures. Willa declares her independence, but contrary to that declaration, she seems to live her own life subsuming her needs to the needs of others, always smoothing out the wrinkles of life.
Once again, the years pass, and it is now 1997. Willa is 41. She and Derek have two teenaged children, Sean and Ian. Like Willa and her sister, both of their children are different from each other. While driving and discussing them, Derek, sometimes prone to losing his temper, becomes angry at a driver. Soon road rage has its own consequences. Their whole family suffers from the effects of that anger.
In 2017, without much background information, we find Willa, now 61, with an empty nest, living in Arizona with her second husband, Peter, a man who is more than a decade older than she. He is rather stodgy, but like Derek, he takes care of her and infantilizes her somewhat, making her feel as safe as she did with her father. Women make her more uneasy since her mom was so volatile.
Most of the story begins now with an unusual phone call from Callie Montgomery, a neighbor of her son Sean’s former girlfriend Denise. Denise has been shot in a freak situation and Callie is charged with taking care of her 9 year old daughter, Cheryl, and their dog, Airplane. Callie was overwhelmed, being a working woman who never had children. She found Willa’s phone number on the fridge and took a chance calling her, assuming she was the grandmother, which she was not. Nevertheless, she enlisted her help, and although totally unrelated to any of them in any way, Willa, yearning to be needed again, feeling useless, purposeless and unnecessary, decides to go to Baltimore to help out. Peter decides to accompany her when he fails to persuade her to change her mind. He feels she is not independent enough to handle the strain and stress of the trip, and she agrees, glad for his help. She is somewhat needy and tentative, insecure and uncertain about being alone. Willa’s transformation over the following weeks is the main theme of the story, I believe. She, at such a late stage, finally comes of age.
As Anne Tyler examines the consequences of certain actions and reactions in each of the character’s lives and follows how their futures evolve, the reader watches them make decisions that are often not well thought out. They are often selfish and cruel, mindless and foolish. Still, each decision can quite possibly be traced back to a previous incident in their lives which affected the formation of their character and made him/her, who or what they become.
Willa sought men like her father, men who embodied what she believed was serenity, good judgment, and strength, men who could protect her. She regarded women like her mother warily. They frightened her. She herself made few waves and always sought the quiet, careful, least objectionable response to all situations. She rarely lost her temper. Her children grew up with the character traits of both she and her husband and were also formed by their experiences, sometimes as a result of being misunderstood at the time they occurred, or because their needs were ignored at that time. Many of the characters had anger management issues as well as inordinately selfish needs without the concomitant sense of gratitude for what they received from others. At the end, as Willa imagined the scene around her at the airport, frozen in time, many of the characters in the book are frozen in times, as well. As we move from time period to time period with little explanation about their intervening years and experiences, the reader is left to their own devices and imagination regarding that missing time and its future effects.
The clock dance that Cheryl refers to is slow and in syncopated time; the one that Willa prefers marches onward, fast forwarding into a world where anything is possible. From wanting to maintain the status quo, she begins to want to live, no longer biding her time, but making use of it.
Anne Tyler’s books always have a hidden, quietly stressed, profound message, and this one is no different, although it is a bit thinner in context than others she has written. She seems to leave open spaces in the narrative deliberately, so that the reader can fill them in. In the end, Tyler examines all of life’s possibilities, and although there is some question as to how Willa will live out the rest of her life, adrift or attached to the mainland, it is reasonably predicted by her last thoughts that she is going forward.
Possibly, in the need to make the book part of the current day philosophy of liberals and progressives, of which authors are great in number, Tyler inserts race, mental illness, drugs, sex, crime and infidelity into the narrative in a sometimes contrived and minor way. Some of the characters seem like caricatures of themselves, i.e. the strong man Sir Joe, the nerdy Erland, the Marcus Welby image of a doctor, Ben, the lonely single life and the desire to be independent as in the overweight, self absorbed Callie Montgomery and the selfish ways of a possibly resentful, unexpectedly pregnant and pretty much unwilling young mother, Denise. She calls into question the art of judging people by appearances and not actuality.
In short, the novel is good story that analyzes relationships, ordinary and dysfunctional, examines family dynamics and explores the experiences and choices of the sometimes, somewhat quirky characters. It is tender, at times, and it is authentic in its insight into the minds of children and troubled adults. No one escapes the consequences of life’s choices, even when inadvertent.
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LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
Anne Tyler’s books are always a special treat. In this book, as with all her books, Tyler creates quirky and lovable characters that you will quickly become enamored with and find completely relatable. Willa is the main character of this book. We learn about her life in sections: at age 11, at
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age 21, in her early 40s and in her early 60s.
Willa has always been a good girl, well-behaved, well-mannered, and agreeable. It’s obvious she puts everyone else’s happiness and wishes above her own. She is way too passive, complacent, and eager to please. She is basically just letting life pass her by when she gets a phone call from the neighbor of her son's ex-girlfriend, Denise. The neighbor tells Willa that Denise is in the hospital and wants Willa to come take care of Denise’s eleven year old daughter, Cheryl.
At her husband’s disbelief and disapproval, Willa agrees to fly across the country to Baltimore to help out. I think she goes because she actually feels like someone finally needs her for once. Her sons have little to do with her and her husband is busy with work and she feels bored and unfulfilled.

Willa quickly becomes entangled with Denise and Cheryl and all the other lovely neighbors in the community. All the neighbors are great characters as well. Willa begins to feel like her life has purpose again. She feels needed in Boston. Has she finally found a more meaningful life instead of the one she has always just settled for or will she go back to her regular, boring life of being an obedient wife once Denise is well?
You can never go wrong with Anne Tyler. She continues to writing endearing books!!!!
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
If you've read one Anne Tyler...but if you've only read ONE, then you don't get her and her ongoing, adamant, humorous, gentle support for people swerving out of their lanes. Here, Willa's childhood was all passivity, living in fear that her volatile mother would leave her gentle father. As a grown
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woman, Willa gives up her own dreams, twice, to follow both her husbands away from her own happiness, first at college and at then at her job. After the death of her first husband in a road rage accident he caused, Willa raises her two sons. She winds up in Arizona, where the sanguaro cactus in her yard is more sympathetic than second husband Peter. So much for the bleak and depressing first half. But then an unexpected phone call made in error brings Willa to Baltimore (where all Tyler novels are set) and the second half of the novel is brimming with hope and humor. There are some first rate encounters here, as always, when various characters open their hearts and their fears, and a particularly genius one when Willa's older son, a carbon copy of his jerky father, mimics Willa's crabby second husband Peter. Far from her best, but a quick pleasurable read, as always with this sweetheart of a novelist.
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LibraryThing member Sheila1957
Chronicling Willa's life during decisive years for her. Willa's reactions to life events depend on how she sees others responding. She then works to make sure they calm down. It is not until the end she learns to stand up for herself (in small ways) that she becomes her own person.

I liked Willa. I
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felt bad for her because most of the people around her were jerks and she enabled them to continue acting that way. She idolized her father because of the calmness he exhibited when her mother went off the rails. She wanted to be like him in that way. So many others in her life went off the rails like her mother and, like her father, she was the calm but the others walked over her because they knew that Willa would accept them and their behavior and not lash out.

When she gets a call from Baltimore, she goes even though she has no connection to the people involved except her son used to live with the woman. It is here where she finds a purpose and herself. No, she does not go off the rails like her mother but she does finally stop accepting and glossing over the bad behavior. Willa will never be the scream out loud type but she does make her feelings known if you look for the signs.
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LibraryThing member m.belljackson
The promising title and lovely Saguaros on the cover lead into a decent low key story of Willa, a woman who barely changes over nearly 300 pages.
Anne Tyler's introductory words are puzzling, with too much pointless foreshadowing.

Point of view remains Willa's so we learn nothing about why her two
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husbands would at all be attracted to her except for her alleged beauty.
Deep love and passion are missing as she makes few decisions beyond simply allowing her hesitant, inoffensive life to happen to her.
Maybe her sons and sister remained distant because they weren't drawn to her unassertive, humorless, and submissive existence.

Eventually readers may become more impatient with her passive responses than impressed by any plot or character development:

"She had had to leave behind an ESL job that she loved..."
"Willa was playing I Doubt It with Cheryl after supper when Peter phoned on the landline."
This is about as exciting as the book gets. Small boring things just happen. Not to mention "had-hads...."

Oddly, when she takes her first airplane flight alone at the ending, she does not think at all about the man who pointed a gun into her ribs.
And, despite making the unexpected choice to remain separated from her husband by staying in Baltimore,
her confidence does not appear to have increased enough that she might, at the very least, report a gun crime.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Excellent characters. The motivation and the reason for the actions was an interesting study in human behavior.
LibraryThing member brangwinn
Hurray for Willa, she learns how to stand up for herself. When Willa gets a phone call asking her to leave her home in Arizona to come care for her son’s ex-girlfriend’s nine year old daughter while the mother is recovering from a gunshot wound, she goes and finds a life beyond her overbearing
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obnoxious husband. I almost cheered for her at the end of the book Family extends beyond blood relations.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
I love Anne Tyler's writing. She writes about real people, and she treats their inevitable quirks and idiosyncrasies with such acceptance that allows the reader to get to know and appreciate her characters and the situations they find themselves in.

In this story, we have Willa Drake, a 61-year-old
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who has always strove to be taken for granted -- after growing up with a sometimes hysterical and abusive mother, Willa believes the best thing she can give her children is consistency and calmness. After being widowed young, and later re-married, she finds that her children (and her younger sister) are distant from her. Her husband has moved her from California and a job she loved to Arizona, where she knows no one. As often happens in Ms. Tyler's novels, a chance encounter, a mistake, a misunderstanding....opens possibilities. In this case, Willa receives a phone call asking her to care for a young girl whose mother has been injured in a shooting. The caller thinks Willa is the child's grandmother, but Willa is no relation and has never met the child nor her mother. Nevertheless, Willa agrees to fly to Baltimore. In Baltimore, Willa begins to realize that she has not been happy and thinks about the choices she's made (more realistically, the things she's allowed to happen). I loved watching her come into her own!

As always, we have wonderful characters, touches of humour and sadness, great writing. I'll be waiting somewhat patiently for Ms. Tyler's next book.
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LibraryThing member Dianekeenoy
I've been reading a lot of library books and ARCs lately while my own books look on forlornly from their stacks! So, I put them down and picked up Clock Dance which I purchased on the day it was released. I love Anne Tyler and own and have read all of her books. I loved this book as well and after
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settling down in my favorite reading chair, read it straight through. Willa Drake is 61 years old living with her second husband in Arizona when she gets a phone call from the neighbor of her son's ex-girlfriend. Said ex-girlfriend has been shot and someone needs to take care of her daughter while she's in the hospital. So, although Willa has never met the little girl and her mother, she decides to go and help. There, we watch Willa step out of her very careful persona and finally start to speak up for herself and others. It's a wonderful journey and we get to go along for the ride. The book is broken up into several parts, starting when she's eleven, then skipping to her life at twenty-one, then forty-one before we start her journey at sixty-one. As always, her secondary characters are delightfully eccentric and add that special dimension that Anne Tyler is famous for in her books. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member PrueGallagher
After more than a dozen novels to her credit, it must be said that this is not her finest work. But if you are a fan - and I am definitely a fan - then there is much to enjoy about this 'coming of middle-age' tale. Other reviewers have sketched out the story-line and its characters - no one out of
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the ordinary and nothing happens that is particularly out of the ordinary. There are no lyrically poetic passages to quote. Tyler is so skilled at what she does it hardly seems like writing at all - she is a writer's writer who establishes place and personalities with such depth you feel like you have met these people, walked that neighbourhood. Tyler is a treasure.
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LibraryThing member jphamilton
I won't be subtle or clever about this, I loved this book. It has been much too long since I've read one of Tyler's satisfying and outstanding novels about simply average people. Her characters don't have special powers, they don't do great things, they are like the normal people we all see moving
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around in our everyday lives. Tyler has the ability to take the everyday and reveal them as much more.
As most of us gain maturity, we learn that everybody living on this planet has an interesting story, all we have to do is listen. All those people our younger selves may have written off as nerds, jocks, racists, conservatives, or whatever quick label we came up with, are always more than one dimensional caricatures.
Tyler uses all her skills to constantly create characters that might seem easy to write-off at first glance, but through their actions and words they always reveal themselves as so much more. Tyler shows us how these people feel the pain, the love, the anger, whatever it is that affects their lives, and how it makes them who they are.
Vicky and I both loved her characters to the hilt. One of us would read one of her books and would then insist that the other would have to read it. Her books make you feel better about people.
Tyler doesn't trick her readers, she just puts a bunch of her everyday characters into a book, and proceeds to show us how odd they really might be, but also how they are just trying to figure out this whole "living thing."
Willa Drake is the central character of the book. We follow her life, see how she ends up a widow, remarried, and at sixty-one, is living a quiet, retired life in Arizona. Then, she gets a phone call from the neighbor of woman who was just shot in Baltimore, and it redirects her life and her emotions. It is an emotional story--like every Tyler novel--and one that makes you feel for the characters and mostly leaves you with a smile.
I only wish I could share this book with Vicky ... and tell her that she has to read it.
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LibraryThing member Dreesie
Just like A Spool of Blue Thread, this book is entertaining and a fast read. I didn't want to put it down, I found most of the characters to be well done, and I wanted to know more about them. All in all, though, I suspect that in a year or two I won't remember much about this book.
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follow Willa through several decades--as a child when her mother has some sort of breakdown and leaves for a few days; as a college student; as a widow; and then as a remarried older woman. Her second husband, Peter, drove me crazy--who calls his wife "little one"? But I think that was the point. Willa drops everything to go take care of her son's ex-girlfriend and her daughter (whom she has never met) after the mom is shot. A bit of a misunderstanding led to her being called at all, and her husband is annoyed--but she realizes, why not? She is bored and living where she has few friends.

She learns a lot about herself (and a bit about Peter) while she gets to know the folks on their Baltimore block. And she realizes she likes them, and will miss them.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is my 12th Anne Tyler book. I recently read Celestial Navigation that was published in 1974 and this one was done this year so it was interesting to the contrast in styles. As always Tyler books are well written with the topic being ordinary people and their dealings with family and friends.
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This book was okay but I felt that it did not rise to the level of other Tyler books. Wilal Drake is a 61 year old woman in a 2nd marriage in 2017. The book sets this up by showing her as an 11, 21, and 41 year old and the events that shaped her. I had a hard time making the leap from the person I saw at 21 to what she became at 61. The book does show you that sometimes your real family is not your sons and daughters but the friends you make . As a Anne Tyler fan, I will read every book she will write(she is 76) but if you want to see her at the best then start with "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant" and read this and the next 3 novels she wrote after that.
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
I love Anne Tyler and her character driven books. I liked Clock Dance also but it was so sad. A woman who has lived her whole life without really fitting in discovers a neighborhood and people with whom she can be herself. At times I wondered why she put up with the two husbands she had for as long
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as she did. She was always pacifying them and didn't agree with their aggressiveness or impatience. But people do stay in lives they don't want to be in. How does it end? That would be a spoiler.
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
Main character “adopts” her son’s ex-girlfriend ‘s family .
LibraryThing member Montserratmv
Anne Tyler is a master at telling small-great stories. (Weird circumstances; magnificent results.)
LibraryThing member lisa875
I love every single one of Anne Tyler's books. This one was no exception. She never disappoints. In this book what spoke to me was her understanding of family, including the family you come from and the family you create. She puts things so succinctly. She doesn't beat you over the head with it,
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but she very gracefully makes her point, showing how important family is, how it shapes you, and how it may be important to recognize that and move beyond it. But she does so much more than that. I have so many favorite lines from this book and I'm dying to quote them but I don't want to give it away.
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LibraryThing member oldblack
I like Anne Tyler's writing for her observations of American society and the behaviour of families. This isn't a book full of drama, but rather, it charts the course of emotional ups and downs in the life of an ordinary American as she grows from childhood to late middle age. It is very much a book
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about the failure of men in American society. As an outsider (Australian) I initially thought some of the characters were pretty wacky, but I suspect Tyler is accurately describing people who are not atypical American....and indeed if she were living in my home town I might see my own countrymen (yes, men) from a different and insightful perspective. There are pretty wacky people everywhere. Not me, of course.
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