From the publisher:
A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick!
From the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, comes Ann Patchett’s most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are.
At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.
The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.
Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.
At the heart of this novel is the bond between siblings, something I have witnessed, but never experienced. I think what is a bit unusual is that the siblings are a brother and sister. I have read tons of books about sisters, and some about brothers. I’m sure there are other books that emphasize the brother-sister relationship, but nothing springs to mind, while this book will linger for a very long time.
Danny is dating Celeste. It has become serious, they’ve been together for a few years. He introduces his sister to her,, and at first, Celester and Maeve become fast friends. But when Celeste gives Danny a wedding ultimatum as he completes his first year of med school, he declines and they break up, causing a rift between Maeve and Celeste. When Danny and Celeste eventually marry, she is often resentful of his relationship with his sister. Frankly, I think many women will be able to understand that. I’ve always believed that a married couple needs to put each other first, above everyone else, so I thought I would struggle a bit with this. But I liked Maeve so much more than Celeste that I was surprisingly fine with it.
As you can probably tell from my own inner monologue here, there is a lot to discuss in this book. I haven’t even touched on the Dutch House itself. That is no metaphor, it is the name of the house where Danny and Maeve grew up, and it plays a significant role in the story. Actually, I’ll retract that, it is a metaphor for a few things, now that I think about it.
The Dutch House is, at its heart, a dysfunctional family story, yet in Patchett’s hands, it is so much more. I swear, Patchett could write a grocery list and make it sound beautiful. Her prose is sparse and sensitive; her characters well-drawn, including the house. A wonderful read to savor, perhaps over the upcoming holiday?
Oh, just as an added bonus, Tom Hanks reads the audiobook. Makes me want to give it a listen now!
THE DUTCH HOUSE by Ann Patchett. Harper; 1st edition (September 24, 2019). ISBN 978-0062963673. 352p.