The Dutch House

 The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Danny, who is telling the story, and his older sister, Maeve, are left motherless when she walks away one day and doesn't come back. When their father marries Andrea, a woman with two children of her own, the new children take precedence, to the point of Maeve being moved to the attic so Andrea's daughter can have the nicer "window seat" room. A few years later their father dies leaving everything to Andrea, and she kicks Danny, still in school, out of the house. Maeve, who has a tiny apartment of her own at this point, takes Danny in, and with no one to offer either help or support they lean on each other and get on with their lives. Alone in the world, they develop a dependence on each other that will affect every other relationship they have for the remainder of their lives. 

It was a good story with fresh and interesting plot lines, but it felt sad on every page. I don't know if that was the tone of the book or just Tom Hank's narration. He read it in a flippant, almost disdainful tone that made Danny seem like a jerk. And maybe he was; he certainly seemed to put himself first most of the time. 

He marries his girlfried, Celeste, but never seems all that attached to her or their children. It's no wonder she eventually gets tired of him. Maeve never marries, maybe because she feels she needs to take care of Danny. We never learn much about her inner life - her desires, hopes, dreams - or even about her work life and those relationships. She was the more likeable character so I'd have liked to know more about her. 

When Maeve is in the hospital recovering from a diabetic incident, their missing mother returns. She is welcomed and accepted immediately by Maeve, but Danny, who never really knew her, is resentful and shows it until Maeve insists he stop. The mother remains somewhat distant as a character so we don't get to know her very well, certainly not well enough to understand why she left her children. 

Andrea, the second wife, is heartless, the kind of woman - and a mother at that - who deprives her husband's children of the only home they've ever known, and then lets them struggle to make ends meet while she lives in relative luxury. There's nothing warm and fuzzy about motherhood in this novel.

It's called The Dutch House, but most of the story takes place after they leave the house. I'm drawn to any novel with 'House' in the title - houses and our attachment to them fascinate me - but for me there wasn't enough about the house in this one. It wasn't something they loved and wanted back, it simply served as a symbol for the life and lifestyle they'd lost. 

So, did I like it? I think so. Yes, I did, though it left me feeling sad for every character in the story, their lives being mostly about regret and things missed out on. Now that I've finished it, I find there's something about it that I miss. Maeve was a comforting character, and Tom Hanks' voice has an element of that in it as well, but at the same time his jaded tone grated on me. I'm not sure I'd want to listen to another one narrated by him. 


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