Clock Dance

Clock Dance

by Anne Tyler


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New York Times Bestseller
A charming novel of self-discovery and second chances from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Spool of Blue Thread
Willa Drake has had three opportunities to start her life over: in 1967, as a schoolgirl whose mother has suddenly disappeared; in 1977, when considering a marriage proposal; and in 1997, as a young widow trying to hold her family together. So she is surprised when in 2017 she is given one last chance to change everything, after receiving a startling phone call from a stranger. Without fully understanding why, she flies across the country to Baltimore to help a young woman she's never met. This impulsive decision, maybe the first one she’s consciously made in her life, will lead Willa into uncharted territory—surrounded by eccentric neighbors who treat each other like family, she finds solace and fulfillment in unexpected places. A bewitching novel of hope and transformation, Clock Dance gives us Anne Tyler at the height of her powers.
One of the Best Books of the Year: O, The Oprah MagazineReal SimpleThe Christian Science Monitor 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525563020
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/30/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 37,213
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

ANNE TYLER is the author of more than twenty novels. Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


Baltimore, Maryland

Date of Birth:

October 25, 1941

Place of Birth:

Minneapolis, Minnesota


B.A., Duke University, 1961

Read an Excerpt


The phone call came on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-July. Willa happened to be sorting her headbands. She had laid them out across the bed in clumps of different colors, and now she was pressing them flat with her fingers and aligning them in the compartments of a fabric-covered storage box she’d bought especially for the purpose. Then all at once, ring!

She crossed to the phone and checked the caller ID: a Baltimore area code. Sean had a Baltimore area code. This wasn’t Sean’s number, though, so of course a little claw of anxiety clutched her chest. She lifted the receiver and said, “Hello?”

“Mrs. MacIntyre?” a woman asked.

Willa had not been Mrs. MacIntyre in over a decade, but she said, “Yes?”

“You don’t know me,” the woman said. (Not a reassuring beginning.) She had a flat-toned, carrying voice—an overweight voice, Willa thought—and a Baltimore accent that turned “know me” into “Naomi,” very nearly. “My name is Callie Montgomery,” she said. “I’m a neighbor of Denise’s.” 


“Denise, your daughter-in-law.” 

Willa didn’t have any daughters-in-law, sad to say. However, Sean used to live with a Denise, so she went along with it. “Oh, yes,” she said. 

“And yesterday, she got shot.” 

“She what?” 

“Got shot in the leg.” 

“Who did that?” 

“Now, that I couldn’t tell you,” Callie said. She let out a breath of air that Willa mistook at first for laughter, till she realized Callie must be smoking. She had forgotten those whooshing pauses that happened during phone conversations with smokers. “It was just random, I guess,” Callie said. “You know.” 


“So off she goes in the ambulance and out of the goodness of my heart I take her daughter back to my house, even though I don’t know the kid from Adam, to tell the truth. I hardly even know Denise! I just moved here last Thanksgiving when I left my sorry excuse for a husband and had to rent a place in a hurry. Well, that’s a whole nother story which wouldn’t interest you, I don’t suppose, but anyhow, I figured I’d be stuck with Cheryl for just a couple of hours, right? Since a bullet in the leg didn’t sound all that serious. But then lo and behold, Denise had to have an operation, so a couple of hours turns into overnight and then this morning she calls and tells me they’re keeping her in the hospital for who-knows-how-much-longer.” 

“Oh, dear . . .” 

“And I’m a working woman! I work at the PNC Bank! I was already dressed in my outfit when she called. Besides which, I am not used to dealing with children. This has been just about the longest day of my life, I tell you.”

Willa had known that Denise was a single mother, although she’d forgotten how old the child was and she had only a vague recollection that the father was “long gone,” whatever that was supposed to mean. Helplessly, she said, “Well . . . that does sound like a problem.”

“Plus also there is Airplane who I think I might be allergic to.”

“Excuse me?”

“So I go over to Denise’s house and check the numbers on the list above her phone—doctors and veterinarian and whatnot—thinking I will call Sean if I have to although everybody knows Denise wouldn’t even let him back in the house that time to pack his things, and what do I see but where she’s written ‘Sean’s mom’ so I say to myself, ‘Okay, I’m just going to call Sean’s mom and ask her to come get her grandchild.’ ”

Willa couldn’t imagine why her number would be on Denise’s phone list. She said, “Actually—”

“What state is this, anyhow?”


“What state is area code five-two-oh?”

“It’s Arizona,” Willa said.

“So, do you think you could find yourself a flight that gets in this evening? I mean, it must be afternoon for you still, right? And I am losing my mind here, I tell you. I cannot wait to set eyes on you. Me and Cheryl and Airplane all three—we’ll have our noses pressed to the window watching out for you.”

Willa said, “Actually, I’m not . . .”

But this time she stopped speaking on her own, and there was a little pause. Then Callie let out another whoosh of smoke and said, “I live two doors down from Denise. Three fourteen Dorcas Road.” 

“Three fourteen,” Willa said faintly. 

“You’ve got my number on your phone now, right? Let me know when you find out what time you’re getting in.” 

“Wait!” Willa said. 

But Callie had hung up by then.
Of course Willa wouldn’t go. That would be crazy. She would have to call Callie back and confess she was not the child’s grandmother. But first she spent an enjoyable moment pretending she might really do this. 

The truth was that lately, she had not had quite enough happening in her life. She and her husband had moved this past fall to a golfing community outside of Tucson. (Peter was passionate about golf. Willa didn’t even know how to play.) She had had to leave behind an ESL teaching job that she loved, and she was hoping to find another one, but she hadn’t exactly looked into that yet. She seemed to be sort of paralyzed, in fact. And Peter was out for hours every day with his golf chums, and her sons lived far away—Sean managing the Towson, Maryland, branch of Sports Infinity, Ian doing something environmental in the Sierra Nevada mountains—and both of her parents were dead and she rarely laid eyes on her sister. She didn’t even have any woman friends here, not close ones. 

What would a person pack, she wondered, if this person were to contemplate making a trip to Baltimore? It would certainly not be a formal place. She tried to remember whether that A-line dress she liked to travel in was back from the cleaners yet. She went to her closet to check.

By the time her husband returned from his game, she had a seat on the first available flight the next day.


Excerpted from "Clock Dance"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Anne Tyler.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think Anne Tyler began the story where she did? What do we learn about Willa by first meeting her as a little girl?

2. What do you make of the stranger on the plane? How would you respond in Willa’s position? In Derek’s? Have you ever had an experience that felt like this one? How did you want your family and friends to react?

3. Why do you think the cactus is so important to Willa? Are there symbols or landmarks in your own life that give you such powerful feelings?

4. If the book were instead focused on the life of another main character or Baltimore neighbor, which one would you most like to read about? What would their personal journey be?

5. Compare Willa’s two marriages, as well as her feelings towards her sons. How has caring for different men shaped her life? How do you think these relationships affect the choices she makes in the second half of the book?

6. Now that you’ve finished, why do you think the author chose these particular moments in Willa’s life to highlight? How do they make her the person she becomes, and where do you think she ends up?

Customer Reviews

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Clock Dance 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once again making her characters so loveably, it’s hard to set down the Nook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book jumps from one period in the main character’s life to another. No hint of what happened in between. Almost like there isn’t much of a theme. Then at the end you are left just as confused as through out the book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were interesting and real. Although at first the story and characters seem overly simple they developed more depth as the book went along Didn’t want it to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Starts off slow, half way through you really start to enjoy the characters and their connection to one another
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the way Tyler gave brief glimpses into the main characters' psyche with the snippets of story at different points in time. Gave 4 instead of 5 stars because I was left feeling unfulfilled from the story of the sister Elaine and why the two sons were so distant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read many of Anne Tyler's books and usually am thoroughly pleased. This one underwhelmed, I am sorry to report, as I was looking forward to reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed with the lack of draw, wit, humor or reader engagement. I expected more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book, but it felt like it just stopped. Kind of disappointed....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting book. I really did like her different characters. However, it ended in a way that I felt there was a chapter left out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommend this truly satisfying, funny entertaining book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just want to say Ahhhh, and smile. Ms Tyler is a treasure. The only thing wrong' is the book ends eventually....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This falls into the eh it was okay. I wish the storyline were longer. Would also like to have seen Willa developed more. It seemed like toward the end she was finally breaking out of the mold she set herself in. I wouod love to see if she broke thr mold or just settled right back in. And will she keep in touch with Cheryl and Denise?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved all the twists and turns.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was kind of disappointed with this book, it seemed to drag on and I was looking forward to a better ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first time reading Anne Tyler. The book was okay but not great. There wasn’t much of a story plot. I think the point was she finally decided to make a life for herself. There have been many times that I would like to do this and not care what anyone else thought. I guess I just don’t have the courage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But as usual...melancholy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Katie__B More than 1 year ago
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 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.
KennyRayFL 28 days ago
AS GOOD AS IT GETS! Once again, Anne Tyler has proven she is a master novelist. This book was a 'bit different' in that it jumped several decades at a time. After the first 'jump', I realized I didn't need to know what happened to all the characters during that time. Ms. Tyler has the unique ability to let us KNOW her characters personality and how they have changed, whether we are reading about them year by year or skipping a decade. Once again, CLOCK DANCE is a book where I couldn't wait to turn the page to see what happens next. I had to wait a long time this time to find out if Wilma would become the strong, self reliant woman I hoped she would become. It was worth the wait. Can't wait for the next great read from Anne Tyler.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Anne Tyler never fails to entertain and enlighten. This story was no exception. Ms. Tyler holds the reader captive until the final two pages! Quirky charactors, people the reader feels she knows (or wishes she knew), fun story and great setting. Like all Ms. Tyler novels I will never forget this book.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Terrible writing worse read ever made no sense and characters underdeveloped
Anonymous 7 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was hoping she would make that choice!!!!!
sunshine52LM More than 1 year ago
This was the worse book I think I have ever read. It jumped back and forth and just made no sense. I kept[ reading, hoping that in the end, it would all make sense. It didn't, and I was so upset that I wasted a weekend reading it. Save your money for something more worthwhile and not this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most disappointing reads ever. I felt the story went nowhere and I agree with the reviewer who felt the story just ended. At the point where I thought she had it all lined up to really get into a story ... it ended.