Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

Tom Lake

by Ann Patchett

performed by Meryl Streep

Tom Lake

by Ann Patchett
performed by Meryl Streep

Review posted September 12, 2023.
HarperAudio, 2023. 11 hours, 23 minutes.
Review written September 5, 2023, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Fiction

Ann Patchett writes immersive, meditative literary novels, and this newest one has a lovely dose of joy. With Meryl Streep narrating the audiobook, listening was a complete delight.

The first thing I wondered about the book: Is Tom Lake a person or a place? The answer is that it's a place - a lake in northern Michigan where summer stock theater would happen.

The setting of the book is Spring of 2020. The world is shutdown. Lara and her husband have no workers to bring in the harvest on their cherry farm, but their three daughters, all in their 20s, have come home, and they're doing the picking. While they work, they demand their mother tell them, at last, about her relationship with the famous movie star Peter Duke. She dated him before she met their father, when she was playing Emily in Our Town during that long-ago summer at Tom Lake.

That maybe doesn't sound too exciting? In practice, it ended up being mesmerizing and engaging and I ended up dreaming about it when I stopped in the middle to sleep.

Lara reflects on her life choices, on Duke's magnetic personality, on the pivotal events that turned her life to the path she ended up taking.

Something I love about the book is that it's told by a happy middle-aged woman. She's feeling a little guilty how happy she is in the middle of a pandemic because she got to be surrounded by her daughters and the husband she's loved so long. (I remember feeling a little guilty how much I loved that my kids started playing online games with me once a week during the pandemic.) Yes, she went through some things when she was young. She didn't end up making it as an actress and Duke didn't stay with her and went on to be wildly successful. But she's fundamentally happy about where life has taken her, and that gives the whole book a feeling of peaceful joy.

There are some surprises in the story -- things her girls didn't know at all and the reader doesn't expect. The sense of place is strong and makes me want to go visit a cherry orchard in Michigan, or maybe find a summer stock theater show by a lake. Completely delightful.