Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
8/1/23; 320 pages
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett is a very highly recommended family drama and will be on my list of best books of 2023.
Set In 2020 at the Nelson family's orchard in Michigan, Joe and Lara
have all three of their daughters back home for the lock down. Emily,
the oldest wants to continue farming and will inherit the family farm.
Maisie is a veterinarian, while Nell,
the youngest, wants to become an actress. With other seasonal workers
unable to help, they must all help pick cherries. When famous actor
Peter Duke dies, Lara's daughters beg her to tell the story of her
romance with Duke when she was young and they were both actors at Tom
Lake's summer theater. While picking cherries, Lara tells the story of
her short lived acting career.
The exquisitely written narrative gracefully moves between Lara's recollection of her past and the present never-ending work in the orchard set before the family. It is a gentle reminder that parents had lives before they became parents and that everyone has a story and lessons learned. The finesse utilized between retelling parts of her past story with the heavy lessons Lara learned all embedded within the present daily grind of never-ending cherry picking is masterful.
Both narrative threads, the past and the present, are equally interesting and compelling. Since Thornton Wilder's play Our Town is a major part of the plot, some knowledge of the play and characters would be very beneficial. This shouldn't be an issue for most readers.
Even though this is set during the pandemic, I appreciated the way
this was handled more than I have with any other lock down novel. Lives and plans were disrupted, but
work continued for many. Other lock down novels have not even remotely
captured the experience of working even harder every day because it had
to be done. There is a brief passage where Emily says she doesn't want
children due to climate change, which danced too close to my lose rule
to leave current events out of novels rule. But once it was added I do
wish Patchett had continued the then-and-now theme and mentioned that in
the late 70's the change being touted was a new ice age.
Tom Lake is an ode to life being made around choices and events
that all lead to where you are today. The true gift of the story is
Patchett's skillful handling of the dual narrative and her intelligent,
beautifully written story of Lara's life. Tom Lake is one of the best literary books of 2023.