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Archive for the ‘Baltimore’ 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

Decieved by Appearances   Leave a comment

McCabesBoard

McCabes wasn’t the top choice for our first meal in Baltimore, but I’m glad that’s where we landed. The gray brick exterior looks like a fortress and the interior is dark. This is a case where looks are deceiving. We never expected the quality meal in what is essentially a tavern. The single server was well-versed on the menu and friendly.

MaCabesCrab

Before arriving in Baltimore I knew I wanted a crab cake. It’s a signature dish in this historic city on the harbor. McCabes makes a mean cake: packed with lump crab, herbs, plenty of seasoning; I detected no trace of bread crumbs. Roumulade, a blend that includes mostly mayo, brown seed mustard and garlic, augmented the crab cake. It’s served with a choice of two sides from the eclectic list of eight. There’s an option for a two-crab-cake plate; one was plenty.

Our server said McCabes is known for crab cakes and burgers. My son ordered the burger with cheese and bacon. Cooked to perfection it’s served on a hefty brioche bun which held up well under the weight of the juicy patty. House-made fries were crispy on the outside and creamy inside.

McCabes'sburger

When the made-in-house desserts were described, we couldn’t resist. I noticed this also was the case at other tables. We had pound cake with strawberries macerated in balsamic served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. It was a refreshing finish to the meal.

McCabes is high on my list for my return visit to Charm City.

McCabes
Four-and-a-half Plates
3845 Falls Rd.
Baltimore, MD