The Dutch House is the latest novel from Ann Patchett, author of one of my all-time favorite books, Bel Canto, and others I’ve reviewed – Commonwealth, Run, State Of Wonder, Truth And Beauty. It is about two siblings – Danny and Maeve – who grow up in an odd but beautiful home outside Philadelphia called the Dutch House. Their mother left when they were young, and they lived with their aloof, inscrutable father and a cadre of household help who raised and took care of them. When their father married a younger woman, Andrea, and then died, they found themselves booted from the house and cut off from their father’s wealth. The Dutch House is about how their relationship survives into adulthood, and their lifelong obsession with the house and the wrongs committed by their stepmother.
I had been in a reading slump over the last month or so, thanks mostly to the World Series (Go Nats!), and after some false starts with other books, The Dutch House was the one that got me out of it. Ann Patchett is an expert storyteller, and I was immediately drawn in to these kids’ lives and their unfortunate circumstances. I thought the middle third of the book was the best – the part that covered Danny’s journey to adulthood and the evolution of his life separate from Maeve’s, despite their codependence.
Ultimately, The Dutch House is about forgiveness and acceptance. How do we forgive those who wrong us? How do we accept that people – especially parents – make decisions that we cannot understand? Sometimes that process can take a lifetime. I felt deep empathy for Danny and Maeve, even as they were turning inward or reinforcing patterns that only prolonged their hurting. While sometimes I wondered whether it was reasonable for them to be angry so many years later, to continue to drive to the house and sit outside, recounting the injustices done to them, in the end I could understand how those wounds from childhood were still raw decades later.
I liked The Dutch House quite a bit. It’s a juicy book to get caught up in, and I stayed up late reading it last night for the first time in a while. I am always impressed by the variety of Ann Patchett’s settings and plots, and how convincing I have found almost all of them. I highly recommend The Dutch House – great read.