9.24.2019

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (ARC Review)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper Books (September 24, 2019)
Description from the publisher: 
“'Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?’ I asked my sister. We were sitting in her car, parked in front of the Dutch House in the broad daylight of early summer.”
At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.
The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.
Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

As with any new novel from a beloved author, I go into it with a great amount of excitement and about as much anxiety! What if I'm disappointed? My expectations were even higher than normal for this book, as Patchett's latest is getting so much positive buzz. I can say I found that the buzz was well founded and the more I sit with my thoughts on The Dutch House, the more I feel as if it miiiiight have overtaken State of Wonder as my favorite of her work.
Early in the novel, the story churns with righteous anger on behalf of the protagonists: Danny and Maeve. Creating utterly compelling, authentic characters with rich inner lives is one reason I love Patchett's books so much. Right from the beginning, I feel as if I have a unique understanding of these people based on their actions and idiosyncrasies that are just odd enough to seem completely real. 
"The madder Maeve got, the more thoughtful she became. In this way she reminded me of our father--every word she spoke was individually wrapped."
Man, I loved that passage! Individually wrapped! Perfection. The choices Danny and Maeve make as their lives spin outward from the tragedies of their childhood seem outrageous and understandable all at once.
"There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you'd been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you're suspended, knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself." 
The underlying tension of their inevitable march towards the final conflict in the book propelled me forward in the pages at a rapid-fire pace. I don't rehash plot in my reviews, so I won't spoil any bit of it for potential readers. But I will say that even when I knew what was coming, Patchett still delivers the inevitable with utter gut-punches - another trademark I love. 
Beyond the plot, there is so much lovely and atmospheric writing and symbolism to unpack about the architecture of a dwelling and how it mirrors the architecture of our lives, as well as what the Dutch House, frozen in time, represents to each character. There's also a trove of material to examine about love and loss, how the past shapes our present and future, how our perceptions shape our memory, and ultimately what it means to forgive.
Many thanks to the folks at Harper Books for a complimentary advance copy, I will cherish it!

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