I am beginning to sense a other trope I seek out in books and enjoy – a woman (person, but I typically enjoy it best if it’s a woman) looks back on some moment of her early life, usually involving a relationship in her late teens or early 20s. Ann Patchet’s Tom Lake fits in that genre. This book, probably the most soothing pandemic book I’ve read yet, was such an interesting book to read shortly after The Rachel Incident, another book in that “woman looks back” genre. This time, the woman in question is a little older, which makes a huge difference in her reflection. The additional age and experience of our narrator in Tom Lake renders her just a bit kinder to her notion of her previous self.
The novel is set in Spring of 2020, but much of the action takes place in the early 90s when the protagonist, Lara, was a young woman. 2020 Lara has three daughters in their 20s, a loving husband, and a farm where their entire family ends up sticking out those early pandemic days. To buffer some of the uncertainty and pass the time, the girls convince their mother to finally tell the story of the summer she dated a famous movie star, Peter Duke. Of course, as the story evolves, so does our understanding of the relationships between these four women. We begin to see the circles that connect their lives, and it’s truly lovely to feel the resonance of an event from Lara’s past in her daughter’s present lives.
For me, this might just be the most satisfying part of this novel. The tiny little breadcrumbs dropped (for example, two characters who share a name) – nothing feels wasted. If sometimes this feels a little TOO connected, well, sometimes that happens in the name of a lovely novel.
I am not quite at the empty-nest season that Lara finds herself in – but as I inch closer and closer to that, its a comfort to read novels with characters navigating their lives with newly adult children. It’s also a comfort to read about a woman who loves her present life, and has strong feelings about the person she was before this life took shape. It was a pleasure to embrace both alongside her.