Title: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
Book Beginnings quote:
That Veronica and I were given keys and told to come early on a frozen Saturday in April to open the school for the Our Town auditions was proof of our dull reliability.
In this summer which can at times be mistaken for the end of the world, we are the ones who pick the fruit and send the fruit to the processor and tie up the branches and take the goats out to eat the weeds. We work from the moment we wake until we close our eyes at night.
Summary: It is the spring of 2020. The pandemic is raging and Lara's three daughters are home from college to help their parents pick the cherry crop in Northern Michigan. While they pick, the girls beg their mother, Lara, to retell them about the summer she was Emily in a production of Our Town at the Tom Lake Theater Company. More specifically they want to know about her relationship with Peter Duke, an actor she met that summer. A man who became a famous actor. As the story unfolds so does the story of this family, their relationships with each other, and the interdependence they have with each other and the land.
Review: This was a book club selection for me and I was excited to read it because... Ann Patchett, of course. I was urged to listen to the audiobook, too, since it is narrated by Meryl Streep...Meryl Streep! Even with these two favorite names, the book was a slow starter for me. I kept pushing it off to the side to listen to other books, finally finishing it the very day of the club meeting. As we discussed the book we all decided that the book was a bit too muted for our tastes, though the story really picked up in the second half. Hammocks and lazy summer days come to mind if one wants to get in the mood for Tom Lake.
Our Town, Thorton Wilder's most famous play, is featured prominently in the book. In the opening scene Lara is looking back on the time she got the part on Emily in a community production of Our Town. She hadn't even intended to try out for the role but soon came to realize she knew exactly how to play the part. Several years later when she is once again playing the role of Emily in a different production she is picked up by a talent scout for a movie in L.A. She is cast in a role very much like the role of Emily. While she is waiting for that movie to come out, she is urged to go be part of the Tom Lake summer theater production of Our Town.
It is through the lens of Our Town, with its three acts about stages of life that Patchett's Tom Lake explores the life, love, family, and death:
Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart. As in all of her novels, Ann Patchett combines compelling narrative artistry with piercing insights into family dynamics. The result is a rich and luminous story, told with profound intelligence and emotional subtlety...
Patchett clearly wants Tom Lake to be a paean to Our Town and to its playwright, Thornton Wilder.
In addition, I'd say that Patchett snuck in quite an homage to Anton Chekhov, too. His last two plays were titled "Three Sisters" and "The Cherry Orchard". Hmm. A good deal of our story takes place in a cherry orchard and, of course, there are three sisters. One could almost feel Chekhov hovering nearby. Wilder may have been "driving the tractor" but Chekhov was certainly nearby lending his ideas for stage directions.
I just stumbled upon this heart-warming interview with Ann Patchett on the PBS News Hour from earlier this year. It was 8 minutes of my life well-spent. I gained both insights into Tom Lake and also into Patchett's decision to write her story using the inspiration from Our Town. Go view it!
Want to know more? Follow this link to my review of Our Town/The Bridge of San Luis Rey with a bit more information about Thornton Wilder.
As many of you know Freda over at Freda's Voice hosted #Friday56 for many years. On September 7th she told us she was going through some personal stuff and could no longer host. I've attempted to reach her but have had no reply. So I will host The Friday56 until she comes back. So that all past participants figure out where and how to find me, please post the URL to Inlinkz below and this post on your blog. Thanks.
Freda, if you are reading this, we miss you. We've got this, so don't worry about us. Get well or take care of what needs your attention right now and we hope to welcome you back soon.
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