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Jill's Prose & Cons: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

"The painful things you were certain you'd never be able to let go? Now you're not entirely sure when they happened…"

I was so excited when it was announced that beloved author Ann Patchett had a new book coming out. The announcement of her latest literary endeavor sent ripples of excitement throughout me. Immediately, I found myself amongst the eager throng on the pre-order list, unhesitatingly paying the premium for a hardcover edition well ahead of its much-anticipated release. As the days dwindled down, my excitement burgeoned. When at last the day came, book mail was an event; the packaging was no match for my eagerness. Phone set to DND, wine poured, nestled into my favorite reading chair. I was poised for hours of uninterrupted bliss, ready to transition from paper to digital as the night unfolded, determined to indulge until sleep claimed me.

Page after page, I kept waiting for that classic Ann Patchett "punch." Missing was the dynamic tension, the intricate web of rivalry, ambition, and emotional depth that marked Patchett's acclaimed works like Commonwealth and The Dutch House, two of my favorite Patchett titles. Instead, her latest offering feels lackluster and mundane.

The narrative unfolds during the 2020 Covid pandemic on a Michigan cherry farm, a family heirloom of sorts for Joe. He, along with his wife Lara and their three adult daughters, are in quarantine. The plot hinges on Lara recounting her youthful summer fling with the now-famous actor, Peter Duke, a tale so frequently told that it lacks freshness, even to her daughters.

Its unrealistic portrayal of characters undermined Patchett's storytelling. Everyone is exceedingly understanding and loving, with minimal conflict or complexity. Joe shows no jealousy, Lara exhibits no regret or realistic explanation over her cold-turkey abandoned acting career, and the sisters are devoid of any rivalry. The eldest, Emily, harbors suspicions about Duke's role in her life, adding a thin layer of intrigue—for me, it added a layer of annoyance.

While this work certainly falls under the category of literary fiction, it seems to underutilize Ms. Patchett's well-recognized ability to create deeply developed characters.

While there are plot twists, some predictable and others far-fetched, they emerge too late in the narrative to salvage this reader's interest. The book struggled to keep me engaged.

Yet, as a Patchett fan, I stuck it out. I switched to the audiobook, and, wouldn't you know it, Meryl Streep's voice-acting kind of came to the rescue. She added layers that the pages alone were lacking.

Good thing I didn't start my Patchett journey with Tom Lake, or it might have been a quick trip. I'll give it 3.5 STARS, mostly for the Streep save.

My favorite quote from Tom Lake

"The painful things you were certain you'd never be able to let go? Now you're not entirely sure when they happened…".

~Ann Patchett.

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