9781526664297 Ann.patchett Tom.lake

“Tom Lake” : by Ann Patchett

A new novel by Ann Patchett is always something to look forward to and in “Tom Lake” she does not disappoint.

This is the story of Laura Kenison, her husband, Joe Nelson, and their family of three grown-up daughters who, whilst isolating during the pandemic on their fruit farm, are working long hours picking the crop of cherries. This though is not another book about the lockdown, it offers so much more.

Laura is recounting, to her daughters, her early life and short career as an actress where she met and briefly had an affair with Peter Duke, who went on to become famous in Hollywood.
It is a story the girls know some of but have never heard in full. It is how the women of the household pass their time while picking the crop; the usual annual cohort of pickers restricted by the pandemic.

The girls all have their own distinct characters and back stories. The eldest Emily, 26, is the only one who seems to be destined to remain on the family farm and has a long-term relationship with Benny, the son from an adjoinging property. Maisie, 24, is training to become a vet so helps out neighbours with sick animals. Nell, 22 a drama student, wants to become an actress. They offer a lot to the book as their mother’s life story unfolds. Joe, forever hard working, is a constant presence in the background interjecting the odd reminiscence to embellish Laura’s story. Not to forget Hazel, Maisie’s dog!

Laura, Lara on the stage, had a part in a college play, a performance of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” This lead to her moving out to California before circumstances see her returned to the East coast and eventually securing the same role in a local summer theatre in Tom Lake, Michigan. There she meets Duke her co-star, the summer evolves as their relationship develops. Other main characters add dimension to this section in particular a dancer Pallas, Laura’s understudy and Sebastian, Duke’s brother a regular visitor and amongst other things tennis coach and nice guy. Stagecraft and theatre production are convincingly portrayed here as rehearsals lead onto the summer performances and the lives of these four young people, along with a few memorable sub-characters, are all played out to Laura’s daughters and us the reader.

Complimenting these authentic theatrical backflashes are the detailed lives of the Michigan fruit farmer particularly of cherries but also of apples and pears. Ann Patchett tells a convincing story, I felt that I was experiencing their lives, the author’s knowledge of and research into her subjects is well presented.

As each strand past and present unfolds, the weeks pass and Laura’s early life is openly revealed to her family as the harvest is picked. Reading their story I savoured each chapter, the structure of the novel is pitch perfect; I began to think that it was like a really good wine that gently grows on you the further you imbibe. Cheers! Enjoy. A great summer read!