Reviews for Tom Lake

by Ann Patchett

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

It’s time to harvest the cherries from their Michigan orchard, but the pandemic means that Joe Nelson; his wife, Lara; and their daughters, Emily, Maisie, and Nell, must pick all the fruit themselves. To lighten the lengthy, grueling workdays, and prompted by the recent death of world-famous actor Peter Duke, the girls press Lara to tell them about her romance with Duke at Tom Lake, a summer stock company in Michigan, and her decision to give up acting after one big movie role. Lara’s reminiscences, peppered by feisty comments from her daughters and periodic appearances by her gentle, steadfast husband, provide the foundation for Patchett’s moving portrait of a woman looking back at a formative period in her life and sharing some—but only some—of it with her children. Duke flashes across her recollections as a wildly talented, nakedly ambitious, and extremely crazy young man clearly headed for stardom, but the real interest in this portion of the novel lies in Patchett’s delicate delineation of Lara’s dawning realization that, fine as she is as Emily in Our Town, she has a limited talent and lacks the drive that propels Duke and her friend and understudy Pallas. The fact that Pallas, who's Black, doesn’t get the break that Duke does is one strand in Patchett’s intricate and subtle thematic web, which also enfolds the nature of storytelling, the evolving dynamics of a family, and the complex interaction between destiny and choice. Lara’s daughters are standouts among the sharply dawn characterizations: once-volatile Emily, now settled down to be the heir apparent to the farm; no-nonsense veterinarian-in-training Maisie; and Nell, the aspiring actor and unerring observer who anticipates every turn in her mother’s tale. Patchett expertly handles her layered plot, embedding one charming revelation and one brutal (but in retrospect inevitable) betrayal into a dual narrative that deftly maintains readers’ interest in both the past and present action. These braided strands culminate in a denouement at once deeply sad and tenderly life-affirming. Poignant and reflective, cementing Patchett’s stature as one of our finest novelists. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.