by Deborah Rogers –
We kicked off a new year of Book Club discussing Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. It is the ninth novel from this well-loved American author, but the first that we have discussed, and for some of our group the first book of hers they had read. The story is Lara’s; a middle-aged mother of three young-adult daughters, all of whom are back at the family farm due to pandemic lockdown restrictions. To fill some time, and fill some biographical holes for her children, Lara tells her daughters the story of her short relationship with Peter Duke, an actor who went on to become an international movie star.
The narrative switches between the family in present day, marooned on their cherry farm, and the summer that 19-year-old Lara spent doing summer theatre at Tom Lake. Patchett’s storytelling skill ensures that these two time periods are woven together seamlessly, with a constant momentum that made it very readable. Several of our group raved about the audio book, narrated by Meryl Streep.
First love, finding yourself, the insecurities of youth, and complicated family dynamics are all presented for dissection, first by the fictional daughters and second by the reader. The delicate question of how much of your pre-parent life you can, should, or need to disclose to your children is asked repeatedly, as we witness Lara recalling and weighing up what she should and shouldn’t share with her daughters. It’s a beautifully written novel with two distinct and evocatively described settings.
Tom Lake wasn’t for everyone though. Some of our readers found it too tidy, with a story that felt like it was wrapped up with a bow in a way that life rarely delivers. Some found the idea of a family with adult children who talked and shared together unrealistic too, though those pandemic days did bring people together in ways that no one could have predicted. Our readers either enjoyed the number of strong female leads, or found their behaviour unbelievable or immoral. What’s certainly true is that Patchett is a writer who is plugged into the social discourse and doesn’t shy away from topical issues such as abortion, toxic relationships or climate change. The world her Gen Z children are becoming adults in feels like a scary one, far removed from the carefree youth that Lara describes for herself.
We enjoyed a long discussion with a broad range of perspectives, but no consensus view. In February we will be discussing Outlawed by Anna North. Everyone is welcome at our meeting on Tuesday, February 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sidney/North Saanich Library. Sign up to our email list to stay up to date with any Book Club news or meeting changes: www.seasidemagazine.ca/book-club/.