REVIEW: The Dutch House

I’m an Ann Patchett novice.

For years, I’ve seen her name on bookstore shelves and in suggestions for me on Amazon, but for some reason, I’ve never purchased one of her books or even checked on out at the library. I really can’t say why, but I have a kind of blurry memory of my mother telling me I was too young to read Bel Canto when it came out. (I was in middle school at the time.) That said, the recollection in question might not have involved Bel Canto. It could have been another book with a blueish cover. Memory is a funny thing.

Memory is also the backbone of The Dutch House, which will be the first of many Patchett books I pick up going forward. I bought it a couple weeks ago at 7 a.m. in the New Orleans airport; I was desperate for something to read and the selection for sale was slim—which is not to say I felt forced into the purchase or disappointed that it was the title I ended up with. But until that morning, I’d never heard of The Dutch House, and I had no idea what I was getting into.

That said, I loved it. The Dutch House tells the story of siblings Maeve and Danny Conroy, from Danny’s perspective. I’m a sucker for any book about the bond between a brother and a sister; I have one brother, and we’ve been close our entire lives. Danny and Maeve are impossibly connected, and they live in a grand house, which is known in the area as the Dutch House. They’re also motherless, and this loss and others begin to define them as they exit childhood into adolescence. I don’t want to spoil the story, which reads almost like a 20th century (realistic) fairy tale, but I won’t ruin anything by saying that the siblings’ story is wrapped up in the house where they spent their childhood, a house that’s part blessing, part curse, part burden, part vehicle for wonder. Patchett writes the book in a series of flashbacks, and the telling evokes questions of how the Conroy children remember their childhood. The family’s collective memory looms large over the tale, too, as Danny grows up and realizes how little he knows about his own origin story and the assumptions he’s projected onto his own life.

The Dutch House is a book about family as much as it is about power, as Danny and Maeve harvest strength from the most unlikely of circumstances and learn to act upon a world that’s treated them unfairly. Though the ending felt somewhat predictable—it felt like too easy of a resolution for a story so complex—I came away from the book charmed by Patchett’s writing and impressed by her ability to flip the script on concepts like forgiveness and revenge.

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