Book By Book
I always enjoy Ann Patchett’s novels (just listened to State of Wonder this winter–review at the link), so I was eager to read her latest, The Dutch House. When I heard that one of my favorite podcasts, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, had chosen the novel for its latest book club selection, that gave me the motivation to move it up my list. I listened to The Dutch House on audio this summer, read by Tom Hanks, and I absolutely loved this immersive story of the bond between a brother and sister.
Danny narrates the novel, reminiscing about his boyhood and gradually filling in the next five decades of his life with his sister, Maeve. As the novel opens, Danny and Maeve are children living in a huge, unique home known as the Dutch House in the outer suburbs of Philadelphia. The house was originally built by the VanHoebeeks, Dutch immigrants, and is a magnificent, lavish home that plays a central role in the children’s lives. They live there alone with their reticent father, after their mother mysteriously left, and are taken care of by a pair of kind sisters, Sandy and Jocelyn. It’s a happy childhood, until Andrea enters their lives. She’s their father’s new girlfriend–and soon, his wife–and she has her own ideas about the Dutch House. Andrea moves in with her two daughters, and Danny and Maeve’s lives change. When a tragic and unforeseen incident upends their lives, the siblings again experience upheaval, in ways they never could have imagined. Danny describes his experiences as a young man, a new husband, a father, and eventually, an older man. Throughout all of the twists and turns of their lives, Danny and Maeve have an unbreakable bond. Big sister Maeve protects (and sometimes directs) Danny, and the Dutch House and the events of their childhood continue to impact their lives well into adulthood.
This is a quiet story at first, a pleasant retelling of a mostly happy childhood, so when the plot twists hit, they took me by surprise and increased the intensity of the novel. Patchett delves into sibling relationships but also into the ways that early experiences can have a continuing effect throughout a life. Complicated family relationships are explored here, not only between Maeve and Danny but between them and their father, the memory of their mother, and even between Danny and his wife. Listening to this excellent novel on audio was all the more immersive with Tom Hanks narrating. His familiar voice was soothing to listen to, but he also completely inhabits the character of Danny so that it feels as if you are, indeed, listening to Danny tell you his story. That’s the beauty of having an actor narrate an audiobook (which Patchett also did with State of Wonder). This original, emotionally complex, beautifully written novel pulled me into its depths so that I was sorry to leave Danny and Maeve when it ended.
352 pages, Harper
You can listen to the podcast episode of Happier where they discuss the novel and interview author Ann Patchett.
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