Friday, November 08, 2019

The Dutch House - Ann Patchett

Those who enjoy multi-generational family sagas that take place over a number of decades (me among them) are going to enjoy Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House. The story is told over a fifty-year period during which the Cyril Conroy family manages to go from poverty, to riches, back to poverty, and then back to riches again all without really trying very hard to make, or stop, any of it from happening. Passivity, in fact, seems to be a Conroy family trait – and going-along-to-get-along is not the best approach to dealing with a sociopathic gold-digger, a lesson Cyril didn’t live long enough to learn.

The ominous tone of The Dutch House is set in the book’s first chapter when Danny, the  narrator, explains how he and his sister Maeve ended up living in such a large Philadelphia  home with their father and the two women (themselves sisters) who did all the cooking and cleaning. Cyril had purchased the old mansion, complete with every physical possession owned by the Dutch family that owned it before him, without telling his wife that he was doing so. Mistake number one. Mistake number two came a few years later when Cyril let Andrea, a woman eighteen years his junior, wheedle her way into the Dutch House for good. Andrea was not so much the stereotypical evil stepmother, she was more the indifferent stepmother. Indifferent, that is, until the day she was able finally to banish the newly penniless siblings from her life forever. 

Now Danny and Maeve have only each other to depend on, and Maeve literally takes to sleeping on the couch of her tiny apartment so that the taller Danny will have a place to sleep at night. Maeve, who has always been more mother to Danny than sister, is suddenly thrust into the role of being her brother’s only protector, a role she claims as hers for the rest of her life. Danny, on his part, deeply feels their special bond and is always there when his sister needs him.

Ann Patchett
Danny and Maeve eventually get on with their lives but, no matter how hard they may try, neither can ever forget all they lost to Andrea and how the indifference of their mother and father allowed it all to happen. Now, the two of them feel most comfortable when sitting together in a parked car across the street from the Dutch House  talking about the past and what was stolen from them. And for years and years, every time Danny visits Philadelphia that’s exactly what they do. But can they ever really be happy as long as they allow the past to eat at them this way? And what will happen to Danny and Maeve when they are finally forced to confront the people who treated them so shabbily all those years ago? Will they ever be ready for that moment?

Bottom Line: The Dutch House is the kind of beautifully written novel that readers have come to expect from Ann Patchett, one filled with nuanced characters and (at times melodramatic) situations that will leave those readers thinking about them long after they have turned the book’s final page. Patchett uses multiple flashforwards and flashbacks to build tension all throughout the novel, sprinkling hints along the way as to what Danny and Maeve still have to endure before their story is finally told. And what a story, it is.

(Perhaps it’s just me, but The Dutch House reminds me very much of the kind of novel I’ve come to expect from Anne Tyler, another of my favorite writers.)

9 comments:

  1. Another book to add to my list. :)
    (Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors, too.)

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    1. I hope you enjoy it. Have you read Patchett before? She's become a favorite of mine in the last five years or so.

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    2. I've read State of Wonder, which I liked except for one thing at the end, and also The Magician's Assistant. Do you have a favorite book by her?

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    3. I think that "State of Wonder" is probably my favorite. I was totally intrigued by that jungle setting and all.

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  2. I SO LOVED this novel; Tom Hanks narrating the audio made it even more special. No review yet - I keep thinking about it - LOVE

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    1. If I had known about Hanks doing the audiobook, I might have waited to get the audiobook from my library. I can easily imagine how perfect a Danny he must have been.

      I see that you've reviewed it on your blog now...headed over your way.

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  3. One to add to the list... which is lengthening rapidly I might add... mainly due to you! LOL

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    1. Oh, oh...I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. LOL

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