THE ABSTRACT: Ann Patchett’s “Tom Lake” weaves patchworks of human existence while touching the zeitgeist of our times.

In the languid and perfumed orchards of Northern Michigan, Ann Patchett’s dappled twins of prose, The Dutch House and Tom Lake, spread out under the alacritous veneer of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Nelson clan—Lara and Joe, overlaid by daughters Emily, Maisie, and Nell—is captured in chiaroscuro, busying itself in the sylvan ritual of cherry harvest, ripe with familial resonances.

Lara, the mother and former siren of the stage, oscillates between epochs, unraveling and enmeshing a history of allure with Duke, a celluloid phantom who metamorphosed into stardom. The daughters, beneficiaries of her past and explorers of hidden truths, face a recasting of maternal understanding, trapped and emancipated in the intricacies of Patchett’s orchestration.

The kaleidoscope of Tom Lake furthers this narrative, dissecting the morsels of Lara’s existence: a medley of theatrics, love, betrayal, a bejeweled marriage to Joe, darkened by shadows and lit by personal apotheosis. Patchett’s hand here is both a caress and a chisel, etching a portrait of human communion, glazed with wisdom and the grace of memory.

But Patchett doesn’t stop at mere familial dissection. Her novels reel with ambition, fusing themes and motifs as disparate and harmonious as love, destiny, acting, aging, innocence, experience, and the idyllic Michigan wilderness. Her characters converse across generational aisles, voices catching in their throats, rising in wisdom and sinking in poignant realization. The pandemic is but a set piece, a stage for her characters’ suspended existences.

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The narrative pulleys and cogs in these works mesh with a meticulousness bordering on the poetic. Her characters are not mere silhouettes but moving landscapes, framed with a richness paralleling the very cherry trees they tend. Her gaze turns inward, too, exploring corridors of pain, understanding, and optimism, laying them out with a geometric precision, the words shaped and honed with a jeweler’s eye.

Patchett’s brush, dipped in both nostalgia and a crisp immediacy, paints her works not as mere reflections but as living, breathing entities, alive with resonances. Her works are hymns to the simple life, elegies to human connection, and testaments to her own literary acumen, straddling the fine line between sentimentality and vibrant storytelling.

And in the end, what emerges from these twins of prose, under the deft and assured rhythm of Patchett’s pen, are not mere stories but panoramic frescoes, landscapes alive with the sounds, sights, and sensations of life itself—patchworks of human existence, textured, complex, sad, life-affirming, and uniquely Patchett’s. Her fingers have touched the zeitgeist, and it hums back, a tune that is both comforting and unsettling, a melody that only a writer of her stature can compose.

WORDS: brice.

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