Tom Lake (2023)

by Ann Patchett

COVID-19 gave Ann Patchett the reason to bring three adult sisters back to their parentsí cherry farm in northern Michigan. As every family member is needed to harvest cherries without the usual seasonal help, there are many hours together where they hear about their motherís early life as an actor.

The role of Emily in Thornton Wilderís Our Town fit Lara to a tee. She stepped into the part unexpectedly in a hometown production as a teenager, again in college in New Hampshire, and then at a summer-stock theater at Tom Lake in Michigan, where she met actor Peter Duke. Immediate lovers, Lara and Duke (which is what everyone called him) spent the summer rehearsing, having sex, swimming, and hanging out with Laraís understudy and Dukeís brother. Because Duke went on to Hollywood stardom, Laraís daughters want to know more about him and their mother ó none more so than oldest daughter Emily, who suspected that Duke was her father.

Lara gave up her acting dreams when she realized that her talent playing Emily didnít extend to other roles. A few years elapsed before she married a Michigan cherry farmer who also could have had a career in theater. Since Tom Lake is a book about contentment and a happy family, you can guess whether Lara ended up with the right man.

An upbeat novel set during a pandemic is unusual, but COVID has little to do with the plot except getting the characters together to hear Laraís story.


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