In one word: Bummer
Cannonball Read Bingo: People
I haven’t read any Ann Patchett previously; I could have sworn that I read Bel Canto but Goodreads shows it is in my “to read,” and I consider it a better history-keeper than my memory. I’m a big sucker for a book with accolades, so the “Pultizer finalist” sticker on the cover had my heart. I picked it up as it was the monthly selection of my library book club. In my estimation, this is both a good book and a good book club book because opinions were mixed, and we could have a fruitful discussion.
But woof. What a BUMMER. This is a book about a pile of characters who are in a state of arrested development for practically their whole lives. Danny and Maeve were abandoned by their mother early in life and left with a father who was vaguely interested in raising his son, and only gave the most passing of interest in his daughter, as they rattled around the lavish mansion assisted and cared for by a few household staff. When a new woman comes into their father’s life, the dour situation takes a turn for the even dourer. It definitely has a “poor little rich girl/boy” foundation, but they remain stuck, as if in amber, into the narrow paths set out for them.
In the battle of nature vs nurture, they were stuck with their natures as there was a total lack of nurturing from parental figures or even each other. Also, sidebar, as a stepmother, why does the stepmother always have to be a jerk? Why can’t we have a really cool caring stepmother? If you’ve seen that book, let me know. Danny and Maeve choose grief and perceived commitment over moving on and joy at every possible opportunity as their lives unfold. Their relationship was, in a word, unhealthy. In another word, stifling.
But, all that said, it was a well-written book with good characters and I found it interesting and has given me food for thought days afterward. One comment on the structure, the use of time-jumping in this book can be a bit distracting. Two of the readers in my club did the audio, which Tom Hanks charmingly reads, but found it hard to follow. In the format of reading it, I think it worked. Danny is the main narrator and we hop around in his and Maeve’s lives, with little explanation. It came across to me as it was intended, two siblings lost in the past, who would reminisce and rehash different points of their lives whenever they were together, sitting in the shadow of the eponymous dutch house.
This book is perfect for a couple of rainy days and would serve as good motivation to examine your own actions to make sure that you are proactive, vs only reactive, in the course of your own life and focus on the present, vs the past.