Dear The Dutch House by Ann Patchett:
For years I’ve seen Ann Patchett’s books on the shelves of libraries and bookstores and have always been intrigued by popularity. When I happened upon an audiobook of you recently, I finally decided to see what the buzz about this writer was all about.
Set over the course of five decades, you are the story of Danny and Maeve, a brother and sister duo whose mother disappears from their lives early on and leaves them to live with their father in an enormous house he bought for their family. In walks their father’s spiteful new wife, and Danny and Maeve’s lives take a drastic, unexpected turn.
When I first started reading you, I must admit that I was doubtful. Perhaps it was because of the audiobook format, but I kept getting a bit lost amidst the cast of characters and the different time periods discussed. Yet somehow along the way I became completely and utterly captivated by you. Suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about you, and I found myself listening to you in every spare moment I had between law school work and classes and calls.
I blame part of this on Danny’s first-person narration, which felt exactly like someone recounting their life story to someone new, filling them in on all the details and things they’ve learned in the time since those past events. But more than anything, Danny’s narration made me want to empathize and support his character so wholeheartedly after everything he and his sister had been through. And Maeve. Maeve. Definitely the character I resonated with the most, probably because we are both older sisters to younger brothers. I thought it was so interesting that Maeve was arguably the second most important character, yet Danny’s narration is realistic in that it does not give us a full sense of her life. We only know about Maeve what Danny himself knew or assumed or inferred, and this contributed to your depth as a novel in such a fascinating, unusual way.
“There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Along with my growing connection to your characters, I also became captivated by how permeated you were with subtle symbolism and recurring themes. There was the idea of the past, and how it can feel simultaneously impenetrable and moldable in our minds. There was the painting featured on your cover, which was one of the most satisfying parts of you to read because it correlated with the cover so perfectly. There was the idea of time healing wounds, and the underlying question of whether there are some things that no passage of time can ever completely heal. And, of course, there was the house of your title. The Dutch House, looming in the background of Danny’s narration even when the events are happening miles and miles away from its front door. I thought Ann Patchett did an excellent job of making this house feel like an enormous part of the book without being so obvious about it that it feels like a literal character in and of itself.
In a strange way, you felt sort of like a modern fairy tale to me–but one written by the Brothers Grimm rather than produced by Disney. There’s the big, opulent house and the “evil” stepmother and even a fairy-godmother-esque figure in Fluffy. Reading you felt like flipping through a family’s photo album in dark tones, shades of maroon and navy and brown and gray and mauve and mustard. A sort of subdued fairy tale, elongated over the span of generations.
You are a lingering novel, The Dutch House. It’s been weeks since I finished reading you, and yet I still find myself thinking about you when something stirs my memory. I was thoroughly impressed and enthralled by Ann Patchett’s writing and am very much looking forward to reading more of her works. I would highly recommend you to anyone looking to read a book about family dynamics, a boy coming of age, class in America, or looking back on the past.
You’ve certainly made a good first impression, The Dutch House. Until next time.