And we’re back to the Anne Tylers I Do Not Remember. However, I am heartily enjoying my chronological journey through her novels, and to be fair, I probably haven’t read this one since 1995. This is a copy reissued by Vintage and I would have bought it from Waterstone’s in Birmingham City Centre (still there), I would imagine. It was before I started my reading journal (in London) so no previous review to dig out at all.

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “The Clock Winder”

(13 May 1995)

We have finally (pretty well) moved to Baltimore, where all (?) of Tyler’s remaining novels were to be set, although there are still scenes in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Mrs Emerson, an elderly (? – is she? Her eldest son is in his 30s near the end  of the book, which finishes in 1970) recent widow who likes to keep herself forever young, high-heeled and pink and gold, for her distant many children, sacks her handyman on a whim and hires Elizabeth, who is passing through vaguely and helps her move some garden furniture. Elizabeth resists attempts to make her into an indoors maid and finds that, here at least, she’s good at something, calm and practical, and resolves to stay until she (inevitably) messes something up.

Elizabeth gets sucked into the Emerson family, which apparently thrives on drama, but really only the kind of Anne Tyler, relatively quiet, drama, and draws close to two of the sons, creating a rivalry which can only cause harm. We have all the usual fine detail, a big, scruffy house becoming one of the characters, again. Then the inevitable happens, something goes badly wrong, everyone convenes at the house (I did have trouble keeping the three sisters straight in my head) and Elizabeth returns to her religious family and drifts into a new job. It’s worth noting all the fine details of dealing with an invalid – here, two valid invalids, unlike the one in “The Tin Can Tree” but finely drawn.

Will Elizabeth return when Mrs Emerson falls ill? The children vie to cajole and control her back – will she stay sucked into their orbit? It’s a big family like in “If Morning Ever Comes” and, like that family, lacking a father – I’m not sure if that will be a theme through the books as the other two novels have the usual complement of parents.

I love Elizabeth’s eccentricity, carefully observed and celebrated for her difference, and the portrayal of Matthew in particular hardening into a man too set in  his ways typical of Tyler’s novels. Like his “weird” brother Andrew,

He liked things the way they were. Change of any kind he carefully avoided. (p. 200)

The section in letters is really nicely done and I liked the shifts in location after the claustrophobic small-town life of the last two novels.

Another shocking event occurs which is so creepy in the set-up – in fact in someone else’s hands this could be an incredibly creepy book full stop. We hop through time to the present, where Peter, the youngest son, might have finally come into himself thanks to another, very different, outsider woman, Andrew is somehow no longer weird, perhaps cured by using one of the items he collected for so long, and Mrs Emerson, pink and gold, still presides.

Do let me know if you’ve read along, joined me for this one or any others at any time, or come to this later and have thoughts on it. All comments welcome at whatever time, no pressure! Do visit the project page to see how it’s all going!