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Reviews of Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Tom Lake

A Novel

by Ann Patchett

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett X
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
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  • Published:
    Aug 2023, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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About this Book

Book Summary

In this beautiful and moving novel about family, love, and growing up, Ann Patchett once again proves herself one of America's finest writers.

In the spring of 2020, Lara's three daughters return to the family's orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew.

Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart. As in all of her novels, Ann Patchett combines compelling narrative artistry with piercing insights into family dynamics. The result is a rich and luminous story, told with profound intelligence and emotional subtlety, that demonstrates once again why she is one of the most revered and acclaimed literary talents working today.


That Veronica and I were given keys and told to come early on a frozen Saturday in April to open the school for the Our Town auditions was proof of our dull reliability. The play's director, Mr. Martin, was my grandmother's friend and State Farm agent. That's how I was wrangled in, through my grandmother, and Veronica was wrangled because we did pretty much everything together. Citizens of New Hampshire could not get enough of Our Town. We felt about the play the way other Americans felt about the Constitution or the "Star-Spangled Banner." It spoke to us, made us feel special and seen. Mr. Martin predicted a large turnout for the auditions, which explained why he needed use of the school gym for the day. The community theater production had nothing to do with our high school, but seeing as how Mr. Martin was also the principal's insurance agent and very likely his friend, the request was granted. Ours was that kind of town.

We arrived with our travel mugs of coffee and thick ...

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I couldn't believe how easy it was to get into the book and absorbed in Lara's story. As a writer myself, I took a lot of notes about Patchett's style here. Rather than crafting shimmering passages that call attention to her skill, Patchett's gift is to make herself disappear so we can better connect with the characters. The events of Lara's life flow perfectly together, which makes it exciting when we learn how she goes from swimming with a movie star to owning a cherry orchard with a husband and kids. Also, that's really how life is: we never know if a single moment will turn out to be important or not, or when we'll see someone for the last time, or how what we will come to learn about them in future will change how we see the past...continued

Full Review Members Only (751 words)

(Reviewed by Erin Lyndal Martin).

Media Reviews

Boston Globe
A searching reflection on the relationships between theater and life, romance and realism, Tom Lake is perhaps Patchett's finest novel yet.

One of our greatest living chroniclers of love and marriage—and its resounding impacts over generations—is back this summer … Patchett always delivers.

Washington Post
Tom Lake is about romantic love, marital love and maternal love, but also the love of animals, the love of stories, love of the land and trees and the tiny, red, cordiform object that is a cherry... . This generous writer hits the mark again with her ninth novel.

Harper's Bazaar
Fans of The Dutch House and Commonwealth will be more than satisfied with Ann Patchett's latest novelistic exploration of love and family dynamics.

Literary Hub
Who is better, more nuanced, or more surprising on matters of love and family than Patchett?....[a] heady voyage into the past, with a delicately observed story that is also constantly shifting the ground beneath our feet.

Los Angeles Review of Books
Tom Lake is about love in all its many forms. But it is also about death and the ephemeral and how everything goes by so damned fast. It is an elegy of sorts but also a promise that there will be magic no matter what.

New York Times
A quiet and reassuring book…highly conscious of…[the] human failure to appreciate the little things.

Oprah Daily
A swoony, luminous reminder about the endurance of love and happiness in a broken world.

A compelling narrative about the secret lives of parents—and how to find happiness in the midst of a long life.

Patchett, beloved bookseller and chronicler of people thrown together in patched families and hostage situations, turns her attention to love — youthful, marital, fleeting, enduring.

Booklist (starred review)
As this spellbinding and incisive novel unspools, Patchett brings every turn of mind and every setting to glorious, vibrant life, gracefully contrasting the dazzle of the ephemeral with the gravitas of the timeless, perceiving in cherries sweet and tart reflections of love and loss.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Patchett's intricate and subtle thematic web…enfolds the nature of storytelling, the evolving dynamics of a family, and the complex interaction between destiny and choice….These braided strands culminate in a denouement at once deeply sad and tenderly life-affirming. Poignant and reflective, cementing Patchett's stature as one of our finest novelists.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Patchett is at the top of her game.

Reader Reviews


Beautifully Written
This is a story within a story. The author weaves back and forth from Lara’s younger years on stage and screen, to her present life of living on a cherry farm in northern Michigan, during the pandemic with her husband and three adult daughters. ...   Read More
Cloggie Downunder

quite possibly the best novel of 2023.
Tom Lake is the ninth novel by award-winning, best-selling American author, Ann Patchett. As the world turns upside down with a pandemic, Lara’s three daughters come home to their Michigan orchard to help with picking when their many regular pickers ...   Read More
She Treads Softly

very highly recommended family drama
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett is a very highly recommended family drama and will be on my list of best books of 2023. Set In 2020 at the Nelson family's orchard in Michigan, Joe and Lara have all three of their daughters back home for the lock down. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) and Our Town

Black and white photo of Thornton Wilder in 1948In Ann Patchett's novel Tom Lake, the main character fondly remembers starring in a production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. This is Wilder's best-known play, which debuted in 1938 to mixed reviews but earned him a Pulitzer Prize that same year, making him the only writer to have received the award in both fiction and drama.

Born in Wisconsin to a father who was a newspaper editor and diplomat, the young author was exposed to travel and writing early on. He attended Oberlin and Yale for undergraduate study, and Princeton for graduate school. He also studied Italian and archaeology at the American Academy of Rome.

Wilder volunteered for military service in both World Wars. In the first, he spent eight months with a U.S. Coast Guard ...

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