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Book Review: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Tom Lake Blog

Ann Patchett is one of those authors who gets nominated for book prizes. She won the Women’s Prize for Fiction for Bel Canto and was shortlisted for the Pullitzer for The Dutch House. But her books are also immensely readable, so I was eager to try Tom Lake, Patchett’s latest novel.

The story follows Lara who was once an aspiring actress, even starring in a Hollywood movie. Now she lives on an orchard with her husband, her three daughters recently returned to help bring in the cherry harvest. Normally, they would have seasonal pickers arriving to bring in the cherries, but because of the Covid lockdown, the couple are relying on family. As the girls work with their mother among the trees, they beg her to tell the story of her great love affair with a famous actor.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the actor’s name is Tom Lake, but this is the name of the place where a summer theatre takes place in Michigan. Lara’s a last-minute replacement for a lead role in Our Town, an iconic American play by Thornton Wilder. When she meets fellow cast member, Peter Duke, the two click and embark on a summertime affair.

The book weaves in the stories of Lara’s daughters, each of them considering the future, choices tempered by the effects of the pandemic, as well as climate change. But Lara had choices to make too. Why did she throw in a promising acting career to marry an orchardist? There are a few interesting revelations along the way.

Patchett creates a terrific setting – the heady summer at Tom Lake, the present-day story among the trees at Lara’s orchard, Lake Michigan a stroll away. But the plot is a something of a slow burner. There’s a lot of detail about the play, Our Town, and the people playing different roles. At times I wondered if I should watch the play on You Tube to help me keep up with who was who.

But in the end it didn’t matter very much, as Lara’s story takes over and her life moves on. This is very much a character driven novel about choices when it comes to love, life and family. The kind of story that’s easy to relate to as these are the kinds of choices we probably encounter ourselves sooner or later. As such it’s an original story, really good about people, refreshing and relatable. Not the best Ann Patchett novel I’ve read (that will still be State of Wonder), but still worth picking up.

Posted by JAM

26 October 2023

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