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Archive for the ‘Anne Tyler’ Tag

Ann Tyler’s Clock Dance   1 comment

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Clock Dance is distinguished from Anne Tyler’s other works because of its setting. Yes, Baltimore does figure into the plot, but not immediately. Other locales provide the initial settings. The story doesn’t come alive, though, until the main character arrives in Charm City.

Three phases of Willa Drake’s life ultimately influence her character: as a child when her mother randomly, and temporarily, leaves the family; as a college coed considering whether or not to accept a marriage proposal without finishing her degree; finally, in her sixties when she receives a call to come to Baltimore from Arizona to care for Cheryl, the 9-year-old daughter of her grown son’s injured ex-girlfriend, Denise. Yes, that’s a tenuous connection.

Before Baltimore, Willa is widowed when her boys are teenagers. They grow up, she remarries and has little communication with them. The surprise request is from Denise’s neighbor who sees Willa’s number on a list of emergency contacts. It takes some persuasion, but Willa agrees to help people about whom she knows nothing. In the process of caring for others who need her, Willa discovers a sense of belonging she hasn’t experienced.

Tyler’s characters are vulnerable, real and endearing. Cheryl is a no-nonsense kid whose strong sense of independence comes from being the daughter of a single mother. The author brings Baltimore to life through descriptions of Denise and Cheryl’s neighborhood and its quirky residents, of which there are many.

Although somewhat predictable, Clock Dance is a charming tale of the need to belong.

Clock Dance
Four+ Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2018
292 pages

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Family Knots   Leave a comment

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Families can be so complicated and Anne Tyler has banked on this fact in all of her novels. Her most recent, A Spool of Blue Thread, is no exception.

Abby and Red Whitshank are the kind of folks that raise their four kids, go to work every day, are regarded favorably, pay their bills, have a peripheral connection to a church and know little about either each other or their family history. At one point, in a jesting tone, the omniscient narrator notes there are two family stories: one about the family home on Bouton Road in a respectable, comfortable Baltimore neighborhood, and the other about Red’s sister’s marriage.

Of course, there are more, many more. And Tyler slowly, almost teasingly, reveals them. There’s a good reason why she spends so much time describing the Bouton Road house built by Red’s father.

Initially, the novel appears to focus on Denny, the ne’er-do-well son who floats in and out of the family’s vision. Once he’s clearly established as unreliable and secretive, the focus shifts. Multiple times. Denny has two sisters, but they are the least developed characters. Stem, the youngest son, soon becomes a focal point, as do Red’s parents. Though separated by a generation, the secrets and pasts associated with these three are what move the narrative.

Tyler is not afraid to throw in surprises, which in retrospect were actually subtly foreshadowed. Her ability to show the strengths and foibles of family life are engaging, occasionally humorous and always insightful.

A Spool of Blue Thread
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
368 pages

The Good in Farewells   Leave a comment

Anne Tyler is a gifted story teller. Her characters are ordinary, and if you live in
Baltimore — her setting of choice — they could easily be your next door neighbors.
She makes the potentially banal into something sublime. Such is the case with 
The Beginner’s Goodbye
, a finely-threaded novel about a man, Aaron, left to
scrutinize his marriage following the death of his wife in a freak household accident.
The story’s beauty deepens as Aaron is ultimately forced to confront his relation-
ship with not only his deceased wife, Dorothy, but also with his sister, co-workers,
and others he’d rather ignore.

The beginner in the title comes from the succession of books published at Aaron’s
small, family-run publishing house. Humorously based on the Dummies’ series, the
Beginner’s books address everything from kitchen remodeling to dog training, from
wine tasting to bird watching. In a way, Tyler’s novel is about how to avoid dealing
with grief. Aaron is pathetic, and, if not for glimmers of humor, would be a completely
disagreeable protagonist due to his efforts to deflect expressions and gestures of sym-
pathy as well as support. By the way, Aaron stutters and his right side is crippled. He
has a history of impeding assistance, which he mistakes for pity. He has always kept
everyone at bay. From Aaron’s perspective, so did Dorothy. Ironically, Dorothy’s re-
appearance as an apparition helps him acknowledge this and other truths.

This is no ghost story or smoke and mirrors tale. Instead, it’s about love, loss and un-
derstanding.

Four Bookmarks

The Beginner’s Goodbye

Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

197 pages