Ann Patchett writes beautifully; Tom Lake, like her other novels, is a pleasure to read.
I found it an interesting take on life during lockdown with older children back home with their parents (like my own household at the time). Instead of focusing on the pandemic, the focus is on how people in the same family, thrown together unexpectedly, build a new kind of relationship. In this case, it’s largely about a mother, Lara, (re)telling old stories about her past, when she was a young woman and before her children were born, and when she spent time at the eponymous Tom Lake and had an affair with a young man, Peter Duke, who has since become a very famous actor.
Tom Lake is a mild story, gently told. I found it a bit saccharine. And while there are revelations, and some shifts in the relationship between the mother and her daughters, it’s all just a bit too understated. A bit weak-chinned.
Much of the story (and some reviews I’ve seen) revolves around a sort of surprise that someone would give up the world of theatre in favour of a quiet life on a cherry farm. Since I would rather have a lobotomy than be an actor, and I wouldn’t half mind living on a beautiful cherry farm, all of that was lost on me.
What makes this novel stand out? Well, I suppose it would fall into the category of literary fiction, given that it has that sort of gravitas, it’s clearly ‘taking itself seriously’ and it is skillfully written and paced. Still, it’s fairly light and easy to read, indeed entertaining, which would slip it more into the general fiction category. I feel it just misses the mark of literary because it doesn’t really make me see or think of the world in a different way. It’s not ‘enlightening’, doesn’t change me at all.
So in conclusion, it’s a nice book, very pleasant to read, not particularly challenging.
By the way, the lockdown setting is merely an excuse to explain why these people are spending a lot of time together. Otherwise, the pandemic is ‘not happening’ and doesn’t form any real part of the story.
My thanks to the author, publisher and Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.
Tom Lake is available from all major booksellers.
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