Like most of the reading public, I really enjoyed Tom Lake, Ann Patchett's latest novel, easily giving it a 5-star rating on GoodReads.
The problem with not reading this when it first came out is...what else is there to say? I loved learning the mom Lara's backstory--how she came to be a one-role actress, her relationship with Peter Duke, the aspiring actor who became a megastar in Hollywood, and how his presence continued in the life of her family after their relationship seemingly ended. While the story jumped from the present to the past, the story within a story framework kept me grounded. I liked how the daughters propelled the narrative with their questions. This made the entire story very realistic.
I haven't read much Covid-set fiction, but I think Patchett worked this into the narrative in a meaningful way--using it to explain the tightness and isolation of the family during the time in which she told her story. Thematically, it reinforced the nuclear family premise--all you need is each other and the land. Very Laura Ingalls Wilder, that is.
I really enjoyed how Patchett integrated Thornton Wilder's Our Town into the novel. I have never seen the play or a movie version of it, nor have I read it. Nevertheless, it is such a part of our 20th century American culture that I knew a bit about it. Lara's identification with the character she plays, Emily, provided a deeper insight into Lara as a character herself. I found it interesting that I learned the plot points of the play as the novel progressed--interesting how Lara's story and Our Town progressed in parallel.
What else did I love? Definitely Peter's brother Sebastian; the swimming in Tom Lake; the life of an actor in summer stock; the work on the cherry orchard (and the references to Chekov's The Cherry Orchard); the three daughters and how alike and different they were from each other; Lara's husband Joe and their relationship; Lara's relationship to her grandmother. I loved learning about Michigan, a state I confess to never having a hanker to visit. Shame on me. Sounds lovely.
I really loved that while Lara was okay in telling her daughters the story of her relationship with Peter, there were some things that she kept to herself. We, the readers, got to know the whole story, but there were some things Lara choose to keep private. I respect privacy and being able to tell one's own story.
I found it poignant and very sad to read about the arc of Peter Duke's life while learning about the death of Matthew Perry. I think this book will always remind me of Perry's passing, and I do expect to reread it at some point.
I did listen to the novel, as read by Meryl Streep, and am so glad I did. Throughout, I kept on thinking that Streep was having a ball, reliving her own days as an up-and-coming actor who probably spent time herself in summer stock, etc.
Final thought--it's interesting how authors are really using classic works as creative springboards. I know this has been going on forever, but it seems to be on the upswing these days. Not only does Tom Lake riff on Our Town and The Cherry Orchard, but John Irving's The Last Chairlift does similar stuff with Moby Dick, and then, of course, there is Barbara Kingsolver's Demon Copperfield.
A thoroughly enjoyable, satisfying novel by one of my favorite authors.
|Isn't the Tom Lake pie on the left gorgeous?|
Bonus: I follow @Parnassusbooks (Ann Pachett's bookstore) on Instagram and so was pretty jazzed to see a pie decorated like the cover of Tom Lake, made by @pieladybooks, who I now follow as well. What a terrific idea for decorating pies! Here is the link to the Tom Lake pie post when the pielady delivered it to Ann earlier in November.