The Dutch House: A Novel by Ann Patchett is my PALS book club’s April 2020 selection. I so enjoy these monthly meetings with food, frivolity, and fantastic discussions. But now with Covid-19, the likelihood of in-person meetings is fading away. It is a strange new world.
The Dutch House: A Novel is a very complex and interesting saga about a sister and brother, Maeve and Danny Conroy. Danny is the narrator. (Everyone who has listened to Tom Hanks read the Audible version rants how wonderful he is as Danny.) When Maeve was a little girl, their father Cyril bought a mansion known as the Dutch House. Their mother, Elna, who had wanted to become a nun, never felt comfortable in the house. When Danny was a small child, Elna abandoned the family and went off to “be a saint” by helping the poor.
Soon thereafter, Maeve becomes a Type I diabetic and nearly dies. The children are cared for by the household staff after their mother disappears. Cyril later marries Andrea, a truly horrible woman, with two young daughters. Cyril shared his love of real estate and owning buildings with Danny. Cyril dies unexpectedly while Danny is only a Sophmore in high school. Andrea kicks him out of the house and demands that Maeve, who recently graduated from college, become his caregiver.
Danny’s devotion to Maeve is very deep throughout the novel. For example, Danny wants to follow in Cyril’s footsteps and become a real estate maven, but he goes to medical school just to please her. Maeve never marries, and never seems to fully live up to her potential. Danny’s wife thinks Danny never lived up to his potential since he would not practice medicine.
For many years, Maeve and Danny would park across the street from The Dutch House and have meaningful discussions. When they are much older, they realize they “had made a fetish out of [their] misfortune, fallen in love with it.” They both had a powerful attachment to painful experiences and relationships of their childhood. It was more difficult for Danny to be “dislodged from suffering” and become unstuck from the past than it was for Maeve. When it came to forgiving their mother, Danny only did so to make Maeve happy.
My biggest complaint about this book was the lack of continuity in the timeline. Danny could be talking about his two children, then next about when he was dating his wife, followed by coming home from boarding school in high school. While other reviewers have praised Ann Patchett for being able to craft together a jigsaw puzzle, I found the writing style to be slightly annoying. For that reason, I rate it 4-Stars.