Friday, October 4, 2019

Book Review: "The Dutch House" by Ann Patchett

"But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we're not seeing it as the people we were, we're seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered."

Siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy grew up in The Dutch House, a lavish home in the Philadelphia suburbs. Once the home of a Dutch family that owned most of the area, their artwork and interior decorating still remain throughout the infamous estate. While their real-estate-investor father loves the house and sees it as a jewel in his empire, their mother was repulsed by all the infamous home represented, and she left when Danny was very young.

Left with a father generally incapable of doing more than providing the material comforts for his children, Maeve helped raise Danny, with the help of the family's two housekeepers. The two siblings, despite their age difference, formed an unshakable bond, one which became even more crucial when their father married again, this time a younger woman with two young daughters of her own. Their stepmother's dislike of them was apparent to them from the very start, although their father seemed oblivious and/or disinterested in her treatment of them, as he was more interested in keeping the peace in his household than anything else.

When their stepmother gets the opportunity, she exiles Danny and Maeve from the house—and cuts off their access to any of the money that should be theirs. Left with nothing, they are forced to fend for themselves and have only each other to survive. And while they cannot seem to get The Dutch House out of their minds, given that it was such an enormous part of their lives, they want more than anything to understand the actions of their parents, which led them to where they are now.

While this isn't a suspenseful book, there are a few surprises that are better to unfold as you read it rather than have them revealed. This is a book that was paced a lot slower than I like, but there is a lot of richness to behold, including emotion, nostalgia, family dynamics, and even a little humor. What fascinated me even more is what a major character the house itself played, much like in Howards End or Rebecca.

I've been a big fan of Ann Patchett's since reading Bel Canto a number of years ago. I love the way she tells a story. (Her nonfiction is excellent, too—check out Truth and Beauty or This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.) I have enjoyed some of her other books more than this one, but it's still worth a read, and I believe both Patchett fans and those who've never read her work will enjoy this, especially those who like stories of family relationships gone awry.

No comments:

Post a Comment