#Book Review: Tom Lake

Author: Ann Patchett

Tom Lake was recommended by a colleague from the College of Communication and Information Sciences, at the University of Alabama. Together, the three of us (for now) have formed a book club and previously, we read The Library by Bella Osborne.

Image retrieved from Amazon

I did not know what to think of the book as the start was confusing me so in my usual manner, I googled it to see what it was about to make my reading easier. I am not bothered with spoilers and when I read paper books, I often read the ending as I don’t like the anxiety of not knowing what will happen. For Kindle books, Google is there lol Once I figured out what was happening, I absolutely loved the book so if you end up struggling, persevere and you might love it eventually.

The book is about the recent COVID-19 pandemic and a family, which is staying at a farm in Michigan harvesting cherry trees and rushing to do so in preparation for other harvests. Mother, father, three daughters, and a dog are spending days together working on the farm whilst the mother is telling a story of her acting career before deciding to marry their father and come to Michigan permanently. The mother is originally from New Hampshire and was studying in a college only to get recruited, as a chance encounter after participating in a play for acting so she drops out of the college and starts developing an acting career in L.A., then goes to Michigan to act in a play where she got a chance to play Emily from Our Town she played once in high school. This is the most confusing bit in the book that originally got me lost because the story starts with high school and playing Emily in the school play, then carries on into life in New Hampshire, college, then acting but all intertwined with daughters asking questions, without this immediately being clear for the reader.

The story is, however, beautiful, and the mother talks about her career and gives us an insight into the acting world for those who are trying to make it, including those where the whole thing happened to them, and they are not sure how to navigate it. The daughters, two of whom live away, one studying to become a vet and the other one acting whilst only Emily (!) studies farming and aims to return to the farm and marry her childhood love, all returned to the farm during the pandemic and listen to their mom’s story with a particular interest being dating an actor who later became famous and won an Oscar but is originally from Michigan.

The part of the story I love the most is the mother’s love for Michigan, the farm, and the trees, and the fact this chance encounter of going to replace an actress who gave up the role changed her life. I thought this was beautiful because, I was wondering, what if that actress did not give up the role, where would Lara end up? Would she make it as an actress and persevere or would she go back to college? Who would she marry?

The pandemic part is nicely narrated too with the mother enjoying being locked up and isolated with her daughters who were returned to the farm because of circumstances whilst also recognizing not everyone is that lucky in the pandemic and not all daughters are happy with their lives being put on hold. The only thing missing in the book is the technology. I would assume there would be more mention of smartphones but apart from some online meetings one of her daughters has with her university adviser, not much is mentioned and the book feels as if it is happening decades ago when there was no technology. This is especially true since there is so much mention of watching the same few films all over again and not having anything to do other than listen to the story. Whilst I can understand the interest in the story, it is also unlikely that someone would not be engaged with phones and technology and that daughters could harvest cherries and listen to their mother’s story all day long while studying going ahead online.

But this does not take anything from the book, which is certainly worth reading due to the author’s narrative power and the ability to paint a picture. I felt I could see the farm and the local theatre in my head and enjoyed the book thoroughly. The book is also about actors, those who yearn to make it (like one of the daughters), and those unsure they fit into that world (the mother), which is not what I usually read.

Thank you for reading!

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