Wednesday, June 5, 2024

BOOK REVIEW: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

They say you never get over your first love. Lara Nelson, the protagonist and narrator of Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake, believes that this is not true. Lara’s first love was Peter Duke, a handsome, young, charismatic actor at the beginning of his career. They met at a summer stock theater in Michigan, at a place called Tom Lake. Lara was twenty-four and also an up-and-coming actress. The play was Our Town. Lara starred as Emily Webb. Although brilliant as Emily, she soon discovered it was the only role she could play well. In contrast, Peter Duke was a huge talent who went on to movie stardom.

It is now a pandemic spring. Lara, her husband, and their three adult daughters are in their bubble at the family cherry orchard in Michigan. They are spending long hours every day harvesting the cherries, because someone has to and workers are hard to come by. While they work, the girls ask their mother to tell them the story of her summer at Tom Lake and her love affair with the famous Peter Duke.

The story alternates between the farm/current day and Tom Lake more than 30 years before. Lara thoughtfully relates the story, a compelling story of youth, ambition, innocence, and innocence lost. Lara also narrates the current day, where her love for her family and contentment with the way her life has unfolded shine through.

The book is also an homage to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, a play I never liked much but now have a greater appreciation for.

This is a beautiful, poignant, and affirming novel. I have to read more by Ann Patchett. 

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this book and was so pleased my book group did too. I insisted we read Our Town first (some cheated and watched the movie), which I found a bit disappointing. I think both discussions were very successful.

    My one quibble was the episode at McLean Hospital. It seemed inappropriate for who Lara was at that time, but I was glad she didn't tell anyone what had happened.

    Bel Canto is her other most outstanding book. However, I read a book of essays recently and enjoyed that too.