I can’t remember the last time I felt a mounting sense of panic as I neared the end of a book, but as I slid, inexorably, toward the final pages of Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, I had one thought: Please don’t end.
I adored this book, which is equal parts a love story between siblings and a study of the way spaces — geographies, buildings, cities, homes — shape our lives as much as we shape them. The book is an enormous tenderness. Reading felt like touching a bruise I didn’t know I had and then could not stop brushing my fingers against. The characters are drawn with such incision and specificity and remarkable genuineness that I cannot believe I do not know Danny and Maeve in real life. I felt protective of them, finding myself desperate to defend or console them throughout the novel: “But Danny’s just trying to…!” I could feel the words forming in the back of my throat before I could remind myself I was reading, alight in the world of fiction. The loyalty and affection and unbound familiarity between these two siblings–ah! Never have I read a truer portrait of siblinghood, right down to the casually sparring exchanges and loud-but-easy-to-recover-from temper blow-overs.
And then there is The House, a treasure to encounter in Patchett’s precise brushstroke, where no detail is beneath her attention. I felt myself gliding through the descriptions of the ballroom and its ceilings, lingering over the descriptions of china and artwork and silver and that hidden drawer with the coins in the dining room buffet. I loved the feel of the unglamorous but familiar kitchen, at whose formica dinette table Danny would sit and eat his cereal or sandwiches with Jocelyn shucked peas for dinner, listening to her radio. Among the many achievements of this novel: Patchett’s astounding knack for creating spaces in language that feel just as evocative and powerful as The Real Thing. I am convinced it was me standing in the backyard of The Dutch House while the French doors from the ballroom were open and music and the tinkle of forks on china drifted out to me. I can see the scene as clear as day, and I know how cool it felt in the shade and how warm it looked inside, and the dynamics of the sound undulating across the lawn to me…!
Setting aside the aesthetic bliss of navigating the spaces in this novel, there is something powerful going on in the centricity of physical space to the narrative. The book leaves us wondering whether places define people or vice versa. The Dutch House, for example, is a mirror and a foil: it unaffectedly reflects who the characters are and yet performs like a character in its own right. It repels and “undoes” Elna, it attracts and defines Andrea, it represents all that Cyril has worked for his entire life and in many ways rewards him for his work ethic. Its loss changes the course of Maeve and Danny’s lives, and they spend much of their time re-negotiating their relationship to it and its inhabitants and to all it promised for them as children. In some sections, the House reads like a mirage or a metaphor of some kind: it is wealth, it is paradise lost, it is greed, it is status, it is security. In others, we experience its physical presence so soundly that we can almost feel the cool marble of the foyer under our feet or the sway of treetops outside Maeve’s (then Bright’s) bedroom window, and we turn and stare at the characters huddled inside of it with curious eyes: “Yes, the scene is set: what will you do now?”
I “read” this as an audiobook and I cannot rave more about the experience of listening to Tom Hanks’ narration. He reads as though caught in the act of remembering: some lines come slowly, as though they’re just barely pulled from the depths of nostalgia. Others come fast, humorous, clipped, in the way we deliver a quick retort to a sibling. And when he slows down, and his voice curls around a particularly moving observation or comment, the heart aches.
This book. Five stars. I loved it.
+I also read The Glass Hotel and the chief word that comes to mind is: unpleasant. The book, which is more or less a fictionalization of Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi Scheme and the many people whose lives it affected, is an unpleasant reading experience. We read snippets of narratives from different characters and it is unclear which are “core” and which are “ancillary,” thwarting our natural readerly desire to form some sort of alliance or focal point. Sure, we can understand this to be an intentional “achievement” in the work, but as none of the characters are likeable or particularly interesting, I found this, in conjunction with the author’s jumping around from time period to time period, irritating rather than disorienting in service of some greater narrative cause. It also felt…dated? The Ponzi scheme, the “shades of gray” morality analysis: it all felt done before. Would not recommend.
+Currently finishing the last few sections of Such a Fun Age on audiobook –thought-provoking and impressively earnest around modern-day race relations and its many complicated nuances and subtexts, though a bit clumsily written? — and am eager to start Lady in Waiting on Audible next.
+Currently reading Ghosted as a fun sidecar (description: “Seven perfect days. Then he disappeared. A love story with a secret at its heart.” Yes pls.) Next up: Dirt (cooking memoir: “A hilariously self-deprecating, highly obsessive account of the author’s adventures, in the world of French haute cuisine”).
+I am hearing good things about Girl, Woman, Other (a Booker Prize Winner): “A magnificent portrayal of the intersections of identity and a moving and hopeful story of an interconnected group of Black British women that paints a vivid portrait of the state of contemporary Britain and looks back to the legacy of Britain’s colonial history in Africa and the Caribbean.”
+Swooning over this rose print dress.
+This rosebud bikini for a little girl is BEYOND.
+In case you missed it: my diaper bag is 40% off.
+It took me a minute to erase the PTSD from late 90s strappy sandals from my mind, but these By Far sandals have been garnering quite the cult following — I have been seeing them EVERYWHERE lately and I have to admit: I’m now on board. I like these unfussy nude ones (wear with anything) after seeing them on the ultra-stylish Jenny Walton. Perfect for pairing with an LWD.
+The ideal bud vase for a spray of fresh peonies.
+Potential project if you’re bored and ambitious in the kitchen: buy Julia Child’s iconic cookbook and attempt some of the classics.
+Emory has reached a new level of dexterity and skill in her artwork: we now have faces! and legs! and hair! and suns! I am in awe of her ability to think of an object or person and recreate it with her own hand. I am contemplating framing two of my recent favorite masterpieces in these lucite frames.
+These upholstered beds are SO good — come in such fun colors! By the brand who made my children’s beloved bassinet, which is still sitting in the corner of our bedroom because we had intended to sell it before the pandemic settled but did not. And now I look at it and want to cry thinking that we will ever get rid of it. You can still find the exact style/colorway (espresso legs, beige nest) I have on eBay from time to time, and some stores still carry other colorways of that style here. But they now have a new model with a metal frame instead of the wood one I have, and it is sleek and chic, too.
+My full baby registry, in case you’re expecting.