Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend Summary
by Robert James Waller

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Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Waller spins an intricate web as he weaves Michael Tillman’s expedition into age-old India to seek a woman he may not find, a married woman he has no claim to, with the everyday routines in the microcosm of university life in Cedar Bend, Iowa.

Michael first meets Jellie Braden, a new colleague’s wife, at a faculty reception. An economics professor just back from India, Michael learns that Jellie has spent three years in that exotic country. The immediate rapport between them sends up warning flags to both that they are treading on dangerous ground. Pulled into an orbit not of their own choosing, they each step back at rational times while being drawn inexorably toward a relationship with each other.

The narrative dances back and forth between the trek through India, with its smells and sounds and traditions so evocatively described, and the story of what began in Cedar Bend. Michael has always been a loner. Women have been a part of his life, but he has never married. Jellie has a secret past, and is now married to a professor whom she married because she could think of no reason to refuse. When she finally flees to India fifteen months later to escape a turbulent love affair that is developing between her and Michael, her husband lets her go and stands around weeping and wringing his hands. Michael, in contrast, pursues her trail through southern India, wondering all the while if he is doing the right thing to follow her.

The slow waltz in Cedar Bend, with the partners twirling in circles but not progressing, comes to a denouement with the events in India. The dance never ends, but partners can change.