The Folded Clock, as crafted by novelist Heidi Julavits, is intricate and delicately worked. Time doesn’t flow linearly in this memoir as we might expect. What at first glance appears to be the diary of a writer in her 40s living an enviable life—an apartment in Manhattan, a house in Maine, sabbaticals in Europe—turns into a structure more complex, like an origami crane. Meditations on marriage and friendship appear and reappear. Diary entries might skip six months, or jump back a year. Julavits arranges the raw material of her diary in such a way as to provoke insight across the units of time that we normally experience: the day, the week and the month.
Once the reader understands that this is no ordinary diary in which life is sliced into manageable chunks, the fun begins. Julavits opens her book by telling us about her middle school diary, how it accounts for the days but not for the self who experiences them. (But whose middle school diary manages that?) She makes the canny observation that a day is a piece of time too small for a middle-aged working mom to contemplate; a week is the smallest unit of time she experiences, or even a month—life measured out in bills due.
The magic of The Folded Clock is the way it recaptures time, slowing and bending it, to create something new: art from life. There’s plenty of life here: swimming in the open ocean, writing in the library, drinking beer in the afternoon, a first husband, a second husband, therapy, girl crushes and more. By connecting these units of daily life, Julavits transforms her diary into an exceptional work of art.