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Ann Patchett’s Pandemic Novel

By Katy Waldman

A portrait of Ann Patchett in front of a cherry orchard.

When the author Ann Patchett was five years old, her family broke apart. Her mother divorced her father, married the man with whom she’d been having an affair, and moved Patchett and her sister from Los Angeles to Nashville. Patchett gained four new siblings and an additional parent. Years later, when she was twenty-seven, her mother remarried again. “I suffered from abundance,” she writes in “My Three Fathers,” a 2020 essay for this magazine. As a girl, she would fly back to L.A. for a week every summer to see her birth father. Often, they’d go to Forest Lawn cemetery. “We would bring a lunch and walk the paths through the exemplary grass to see where the movie stars were buried,” Patchett writes. She adds that the scent of carnations can still return her to “those happy afternoons.” The cemetery, crowded but lonely, gives off echoes of her unconventional ménage, and Patchett fashions it into a figure for family itself: a plot in which you’re trapped with a bunch of strangers, a place of mingled loss and togetherness.

Most of Patchett’s work is directly or indirectly about the experience of being stuck in a difficult family. She is a connoisseur of ambivalent interpersonal dynamics within closed groups. “Bel Canto” (2001), her breakout novel, traces the bonds that develop among terrorists and their prisoners. “State of Wonder” (2011) follows a scientist searching for her colleagues in the Amazon rain forest. In the Pulitzer finalist “The Dutch House” (2019), two grown siblings return compulsively to their unhappy childhood: “Like swallows, like salmon, we were the helpless captives of our migratory patterns.”

Patchett is interested in how people, in families and elsewhere, come to terms with painful circumstances; how they press beauty from constraint, assuming artificial or arbitrary roles that then become naturalized, like features of the landscape. In “Commonwealth” (2016), her most autobiographical novel, six children flung together by their parents’ affair form a fraught alliance, in which the older kids routinely drug their baby brother with Benadryl. The father leaves his gun within easy reach of the kids, and the mother grabs glassy-eyed time-outs in the car. One son becomes obsessed with the art of setting fires, almost burning down his school.

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book reviews for tom lake

In her twenties, Franny, the protagonist, appears to transcend her upbringing by recounting it to a famous novelist, who turns it into a best-selling work of fiction. It’s a thrillingly illicit inversion, or seems to be: Franny was trapped in her family, but now she has trapped them in a book; she has transformed the sinkhole of her past into a resource. But as her relatives bear up under “the inestimable burden of their lives”—the kids marrying and procreating, the parents retiring and sickening—their family narratives evolve. A mute sibling is rebranded “the smart one.” When Franny reconnects with Albie, the brother so monstrous his siblings fed him Benadryl, she notes with surprise that “there wasn’t anything so awful about him. It was only that he was a little kid.” Franny’s family is a resource, she realizes, but she has mistaken its nature—it is not an heirloom to be handed off to a stranger but a commons, an inexhaustible font of ever-changing roles and stories. As the novel draws to a close, Patchett celebrates this reserve, accelerating through scenes of connection: a beach trip, a party, a talk on the porch. The gatherings suggest that talismanic word, abundance. They portray a kind of land wealth—a richness of common ground.

In “Tom Lake,” Patchett’s ninth and newest novel (Harper), members of a summer theatre troupe in rural Michigan in the nineteen-eighties coalesce into something like an incestuous family. They share housing, meals, and beds; their community is rife with intense, fleeting intimacies. As the group is putting on a production of “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder, the actress cast as Emily, the play’s ingénue, drops out. A young performer named Lara arrives to pinch-hit. Lara didn’t formally study theatre, but she has an uncanny ability to inhabit the role. “He understood what he was looking at,” she says of one director. “A pretty girl who wasn’t so much playing a part as she was right for the part she was playing.”

At Tom Lake, the town where the troupe is based, Lara is greeted by the cast as star, savior, and potential love interest. She has eyes only for twenty-eight-year-old Peter Duke, who plays Emily’s father. Within days, she and Duke are spending all their time together, rehearsing, having sex, or swimming in the lake. The summer becomes a blur of overlapping absorptions—in Wilder’s language, in the water, in one another. “We wore our swimsuits under our clothes and ran to the lake in lieu of eating lunch,” Lara recalls. “We could get from the stage to being nearly naked and fully submerged in four minutes flat.”

Tom Lake is a fairy tale, a conjunction of person, time, and place, and it is as transient as any idyll, slipping through Lara’s fingers even as half a day seems to last “a solid six months.” “No one gets to go on playing Emily forever,” she thinks, preëmptively grieving. The curtain falls sooner than she expects. On the tennis court, Lara ruptures her Achilles tendon; her understudy, a magnetic Black dancer named Pallace, steps into the Emily part. Watching her friend take the stage, Lara later remembers, “I cried because she was that good. I cried because I would never play Emily again. I cried because I had loved that world so much.” When the summer ends, Duke goes on to a wildly successful career in Hollywood. Lara quits acting, marries a cherry farmer, and becomes a mother.

In the spring of 2020, at the start of the COVID -19 lockdown, Lara, now fifty-seven, is sheltering in place on the family farm with her husband, Joe Nelson, and their three twentysomething daughters, Emily, Maisie, and Nell. With harvesters scarce, the Nelsons have to pick and process their own fruit; to make the time go by faster, Lara tells the girls about her brief career as an actor.

The early pandemic, with its claustrophobic intimacy, seems almost tailor-made for Patchett’s interests. “Tom Lake” is about being caught in an intractable family situation. It is about being constrained by one’s role—in this case, motherhood—and it is about the transformations wrought by the passage of time and the search for confinement’s upsides. The seasonal beauty of the fruit trees evokes the ephemeral loveliness of youth, romance, and fame; the novel, which is haunted by classics of theatre, repeatedly invokes Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard,” as if Lara, like that play’s central character, were lost in a reverie about herself in her prime.

But Patchett airs the suggestion that Lara is stranded in the past only to gently put it to rest. Despite Duke’s “ubiquitous presence in the world,” Lara notices, scrubbing a lasagna pan to the strains of one of his movies, “I thought of him remarkably little.” Chekhov, with his warnings about the hazards of nostalgia, turns out to be a red herring; a bigger portion of the book’s soul resides in “Our Town,” Wilder’s play about daily life which ends in a cemetery, where the dead are “weaned away from the earth.” Lara uses the text as a touchstone, channelling its mood of elegiac acceptance as she carefully detaches herself from her old wounds and triumphs:

There is no explaining this simple truth about life: you will forget much of it. The painful things you were certain you’d never be able to let go? Now you’re not entirely sure when they happened, while the thrilling parts, the heart-stopping joys, splintered and scattered and became something else. Memories are then replaced by different joys and larger sorrows, and unbelievably, those things get knocked aside as well.

Lara’s thinking here feels infused with sensitivity to the personal—to the vividness of life as it pierces a single subject—but the immediacy of pain and joy has mellowed, over time, into something richer and stranger. “Had every sight or sound of him sent me off on a pilgrimage of nostalgia or excoriation I would have lost my mind years before,” Lara says of Duke. Later: “The rage dissipates along with the love, and all we’re left with is a story.”

A story is artificial, which means it can be fun. Lara isn’t so much recalling the summer of 1988 as she is performing it—playing both her younger self and her current one, selectively concocting a PG-rated soap opera for her wide-eyed Zoomers. She finesses, elides. “I’m not telling them the good parts,” she says, meaning the incredible sex with Duke. The girls, participating in the game, cast themselves as a socially progressive Greek chorus. “You can’t say ‘crazy,’ ” one interrupts. When Lara describes Pallace’s “preposterous” legs, they protest that she is objectifying her.

In these scenes, the source of Lara’s contentment is sweetly obvious. When Nell laments the celebrity Lara could perhaps have been, she exclaims, “Look at this! Look at the three of you! You think my life would have been better spent making commercials for lobster rolls?” The pandemic portions of the book conjure an adult world of trade-offs and compromise, in which family offers abundant recompense for lacklustre Google search results. The girls themselves are delicious creations. Emily is fiery; Maisie, a veterinarian-in-training, is sensible; Nell is intuitive, the most in tune with her mother. She shares Lara’s fanciful streak and sometimes wears lipstick to go cherry picking. Musing about whether to pursue an argument with one of her daughters, Lara thinks, “I will always be afraid of waking up the part of Emily that has long been dormant. I will always be afraid of accidentally breaking something in Nell that is fragile and pure. But Maisie is up for it; no one will ever worry about Maisie.”

In other words, the ingredients have been assembled for a wistful meditation on mothers and daughters learning to handle the seasons of their lives. “Tom Lake” guides Lara to equanimity and closure, mostly by awakening her to the value of the people around her. Here, as in much of Patchett’s work, togetherness compensates for loss; being with others, even if they’re not exactly the others you wanted and you’re not with them in exactly the right way, is a genuine form of flourishing.

But the novel’s alchemical transformation of pain into peace feels, at times, overstated. In “Bel Canto,” gunfire interrupted the harmony Patchett painstakingly built between terrorists and captives. “Tom Lake” softens such dissonance. Lara doesn’t just acquiesce to her second act; she discovers that the convergence of motherhood, lockdown, and fruit harvesting has created “the happiest time of my life.” The interlude, she thinks, is “joy itself.” (Nell’s opinion: “I want to get the hell out of this orchard.”) For Lara, the farm is not an earthly place; its red-and-white fields ripple with magic. Amid a “pointillist’s dream” of fruit trees, she can play all her roles at once, reënacting her glory days at Tom Lake, parenting her grown children, and indulging the maternal prerogative of steering the family narrative. Lara sees the selves she’s shed throughout her life jumbled and reallocated among her daughters. Nell shares her “naturalness” onstage, “an ability to be so transparent it’s impossible to turn your eyes away.” Emily, her most difficult child, she construes as a fugitive piece of her own soul: “No matter how many years ago I’d stopped playing Emily, she is still here.” The farm holds, or has held, or will hold, all the people Lara loves. It even encompasses a graveyard—with tangled daisies, a “pretty iron fence,” and “benevolent shade”—where generations of Joe’s family are buried. The Nelsons “resting beneath the mossy slabs . . . had never wanted to be anywhere else,” Lara thinks, projecting her bliss upon the dead.

“Tom Lake” collects enchanted places, sites of congregation like the lake and the stage, or like Chekhov’s cherry orchard and the town in “Our Town.” Patchett suggests that in these timeless locales, with their renewable springs of ghostly personae, characters can safely warehouse past versions of themselves and others. Or at least that’s the idea. Rather than fear the cemetery, Lara and her kids love it and its promise of “everlasting inclusion.” As a girl, Emily “liked to run her fingers along the tombstones, the letters worn nearly to nothing, the stones speckled with lichen.” Lara herself “would lie in the grass between the graves, so pregnant with Maisie I wondered if I’d be able to get up again, and Emily would weave back and forth between the granite slabs, hiding then leaping out to make me laugh.”

As “Tom Lake” goes on, the determined positivity begins to feel slightly menacing, or at least constrictive. Is Lara really that happy? Or is she hiding inside the myth of her happiness to avoid confronting her daughters’ unhappiness and her own shortcomings as a parent? I was tempted into a paranoid reading of the three Nelson girls, scanning for covert signs of distress. Nell, like her mother, dreams of the stage, but she is stuck wearing sad quarantine lipstick, thumbing through plays in her bedroom at night, and practicing lines with her friends over Zoom. Dependable Maisie is always off to deliver a litter of puppies or tend to a calf with diarrhea. Was she forced to grow up too soon? Meanwhile, Emily declares her intention not to procreate. Her decision is a poignant nod to climate change, but it could also be glossed as a salvo against a controlling parent.

Ultimately, though, the novel endorses Lara’s rosy perspective. The girls gratefully receive the tale of Tom Lake—“I’m not sorry to know,” Maisie assures her mom—and the family draws closer. With cherries harvested and blessings scattered, the cast convenes joyfully in the cemetery. Lara thinks, “There is room up here for all of us.” The scene seems oddly unreal, like plastic flowers on a grave. Yet there’s something subversively wise and self-aware about the book’s investment in its own fantasy. “Tom Lake,” the fiction, seems conscious of its status as a magical place, a locus of gentle make-believe. Even as Patchett validates Lara’s performance of contentment, she appears to know that behind the artifice lies a more complicated truth. The same might be said of the graveyard itself, with its friendly daisies and eternally fulfilled ancestors. Strip away the props: there, perhaps, is Forest Lawn cemetery, in Los Angeles, where Patchett and her father were briefly resurrected into one another’s lives. ♦

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Review: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

book reviews for tom lake

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett is a quiet and introspective novel about how one’s past impacts the present and future.

I saw the cover of Tom Lake everywhere last summer. The book is a huge success—a Reese Book Club Pick and a NY Times Bestseller. So I know I had to read it. But wow, it took me a while.

I first started Tom Lake last October but I had to take breaks. While I thought the writing was excellent, I had a hard time getting invested into the story, which I detail more below. I finally picked it back up this March and I ended up liking it. Truly a slow-burn read, indeed.

What’s the Story About

The story is set in spring of 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. The protagonist, Lara, is sheltering in place with her husband and three adult daughters at the family’s farm in Northern Michigan.

While the world is in chaos, the farm is quiet and peaceful. And to serve as a distraction, Lara’s daughters ask their mother about the summer where she had a romance with a man who would eventually become a famous movie star.

Lara tells the story about her past, and with it, interlines with the present. And eventually, everyone is forced to reconsider everything they thought they knew.

Four Years Ago

It’s been four years since the pandemic first began and so much has changed since then—thankfully life has gotten back to normal. But I think all of us probably hold some type of trauma remembering how scary it was those first few months when we didn’t know anything about this new disease. And I remember thinking even then that I was not excited for pandemic era fiction.

I think some stories have handled it better than others. This is probably the best take I’ve read on it. Yes, it’s during a pandemic and the only reason all three daughters are at the farm is a result of it, but it also takes the reader on such a different journey that the pandemic didn’t suck up all the energy of this book.

I think many of us were probably quite introspective at that time and thought about the past. Although for me, I was pregnant with my son Theo (who is now three) so I was thinking about the future and still held on to hope that things would be better, which they are now. Thankfully!

Lara’s Journey

So where did I struggle at first? Well, to be honest, I was not interested in the play. I just wasn’t. I thought it took a long time to get to the ‘good’ parts—when Lara meets Duke. I understand why the author wanted to lay the groundwork but it took a little too long, in my opinion.

Also, I felt, even though we are in Lara’s perspective the entire time, I’m not quite sure if we ever got to know who she really is—she felt like a passive character in a story that is all her own. That quite possibly might be the point and that in the end, she’s completely satisfied with life at the farm. Maybe we shouldn’t question it when she says she’s content.

But this is why this makes for a good book club book—there’s so much to discuss and debate.

There are aspects I liked—talking about the past with her daughters and also thinking about the present and future. At the same time, I didn’t care for the actual play that much. And I wish Lara was more active in her own story, but it is what it is. Overall, I think this is a good read for book clubs and I see why it was so popular.

For book clubs, check out my questions here .

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Ann Patchett’s latest, ‘Tom Lake,’ reminds us why she’s beloved

The new novel from the author of such books as ‘The Dutch House’ and ‘Bel Canto’ explores love in its many forms

So many books about love are actually about heartbreak. Ann Patchett’s new novel, “ Tom Lake ,” is not. “Tom Lake” is about romantic love, marital love and maternal love, but also the love of animals, the love of stories, love of the land and trees and the tiny, red, cordiform object that is a cherry. Not that a heart is not broken at some point, but it breaks without affecting the remarkable warmth of the book, set in summer’s fullest bloom.

Earlier this year, Patchett received the National Humanities Medal for, among other contributions to the literary world, her ability to put “ into words the beauty, pain, and complexity of human nature .” This generous writer hits the mark again with her ninth novel.

“Tom Lake” revolves around a central love story, one that Lara Kenison tells her three daughters, Emily, Maisie and Nell, in installments over the long, strange summer of 2020 on the family-run cherry farm in Michigan. It is the story of her affair with a famous actor named Peter Duke, which took place when both were in summer stock at Tom Lake, Mich., when Lara was just 19 years old. The girls have heard parts of it before, but this time they’re getting the full account. Lara starts at the very beginning, when she played Emily in a community theater production of “Our Town,” which led to a brief career in Hollywood and then a reprise of the role of Emily at Tom Lake. Duke, a handsome hunk on the runway to a huge career, was playing Editor Webb, her father.

As did many a mother during the coronavirus years, Lara is enjoying the pandemic-driven return of her girls to their mother’s arms. “All three of our girls are home now. Emily came back to the farm after she graduated from college, while Maisie and Nell, still in school, returned in March.” And while the girls are anxiously following the nightly news, their mother’s feelings about the pandemic are mixed. She can’t “pretend that all of us being together doesn’t fill me with joy. I understand that joy is inappropriate these days and still, we feel what we feel.”

Though mothers have been important characters in a couple of Patchett novels (“ The Magician’s Assistant ” comes to mind), “Tom Lake” is her first with a narrator who is a mother — a mother whose maternal role and emotions are at the core of who she is.

This is interesting in light of Patchett’s real-life feelings about motherhood. As she wrote in “There Are No Children Here,” a striking essay from her 2021 collection , “ These Precious Days ,” “Part of not wanting children has always been the certainty that I didn’t have the energy for it, and so I had to make a choice, the choice between children and writing.”

That’s one of the nice things about fiction writing, though — there’s plenty of opportunity to become someone else, make different choices and explore a different life, in this case someone with three beloved daughters. “Emily is tall like her father, strong enough to hoist full lugs all day long. Maisie is smaller than her older sister, though by no means small, and her curls give her extra stature. Nell is like me, or Nell is like I was. It’s as if the genetic material from which these girls were made diminished with every effort, so that the eldest daughter is strapping and the middle is middling and the youngest is a wisp.”

Knowing Patchett’s personal history with motherhood makes the fullness of the maternal feelings she imagines for Lara Kenison particularly poignant. In one beautiful passage, Lara comforts her youngest, Nell: “I want to tell her she will never be hurt, that everything will be fair, and that I will always, always be there to protect her. No one sees us but the swallows looping overhead. She puts her arms around my waist and we stand there, just like that, casting a single shadow across the grass.”

A single shadow across the grass — as if one’s child could be part of you again, the way they were in the first place.

Though Lara tells her husband, Joe, that she’s leaving out “the good parts” from this version of the tale — “By which you mean sex,” says Joe — there’s no way to tell the story without giving a general sense of the heat between Peter Duke and Lara, so hot that it crept into their portrayal of father and daughter onstage.

The two of them become half of a foursome when Peter’s tennis-pro brother, Sebastian, begins dating Pallas, a Black dancer from the company, and eventually things get complicated. And things get broken. And Peter and Lara are shot out the other side of their headlong romance, into their individual futures.

It’s interesting to think about “Tom Lake” alongside “ Bel Canto ,” the prizewinning 2001 novel that was Patchett’s breakout. From a distance they seem so different, one about a hostage situation in South America complete with guns and violence, and the other about a family on a farm in Michigan. Except that because of the pandemic, the family is also in a kind of hostage situation — a suspension of ordinary life. And both stories are fundamentally about how love begins, and what happens to it after that.

Ann Patchett’s wisdom about love has run though all of her novels and nonfiction books, including the great “ Truth and Beauty ” and “ This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage .” As soon as you finish “Tom Lake,” you should go back and read them all.

Marion Winik, host of the NPR podcast “ The Weekly Reader ,” is the author of numerous books, including “ First Comes Love ” and “ The Big Book of the Dead .”

by Ann Patchett

Harper. 330 pp. $30

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‘Tom Lake’ Review: Ann Patchett’s Latest Novel Is A Warm Hug

Cover of Ann Patchett's "Tom Lake."

Ann Patchett’s “Tom Lake” may very well be the first pandemic novel that anyone actually likes. Set among the cherry trees of northern Michigan in the summer of 2020, narrator and protagonist Lara tells her three 20-something-aged daughters a story of the time she dated a movie star named Peter Duke — while avoiding any hint of cringe. Whether it’s Patchett’s ever-prodigious touch or the story’s determined wholesomeness, her ninth novel is reflective and mellow, though by no means prudish — it recounts a hot summer fling, after all. Most of all, it’s rich with the kind of devastatingly real depictions of humanity that readers have come to expect from Patchett.

While in the present day, Lara and her family deal with the daily hard work of the cherry farm (short a few hands because of the pandemic), the young, 24-year-old Lara in her story-within-a-story has an irritatingly perfect life. Discovered by a producer at a high school production of “Our Town,” she goes on to star in a movie, and then to perform in “Our Town” again during summer stock at the eponymous Tom Lake. It’s there that she meets Duke, a then-unknown actor who sweeps her off her feet within the first hour. It’s one of those loves that flares bright but short, and while it yanks the reader along in whirlwind fashion, the mature Lara and her family are the ones who provide the novel’s layers of reflective insight.

Lara’s daughter Emily, named after the character her mother played in “Our Town,” has the frightening intensity of strong-willed eldest daughters, and Lara’s memories of Emily’s years of teenage “hormonal rage” paint a complex and heartbreaking portrait of parent-child relations. Though becoming convinced that your favorite movie star is your true biological father in a fit of delusion might not be a universal teenage experience, the hurt that Emily causes her parents and family is still utterly piercing. Even years later, Lara admits that she is “still somewhat afraid of her.”

Furthermore, it’s through Nell, the youngest and only daughter who inherited Lara’s desire for the stage, that the reader comprehends the significance of a central event in Lara’s story: When she ruptures her Achilles tendon midway through the run of “Our Town.” Although the injury itself isn’t career-ending, this marks the beginning of Lara’s disillusionment with the industry (and with Duke) and the end of her acting career. “While her sisters stare uncomprehending, Nell sobs against [her mother’s] chest,” understanding, as the only other performer in the family, that Lara didn’t go on stage again that summer. It’s an absolutely devastating moment, made even more poignant by Nell’s parallel grief. While Lara has ended her career — and mostly by choice — young Nell, who wants it so badly, has yet to begin. Even worse, she’s losing precious time to the pandemic while she is “beautiful and young in a profession that cares for nothing but beauty and youth.” In these moments, one thinks Patchett must have lived a thousand lives to understand where the keystones of human experience and emotion lie, and then to describe them so adeptly, so accurately.

Though Patchett gets this crucial moment just right, there are moments where the novel falters. Emily voices some climate anxieties in a rather sudden and jarring way, and the girls protest their parents’ occasionally “un-woke” habits in lines that feel added-on. Attempts to comment on race concern Pallace, Lara’s understudy and best friend at Tom Lake, who is seemingly the only Black character in the book. The fact that Pallace ostensibly doesn’t make it to Hollywood, unlike Duke and Lara (who are both white), seems a realistic and quiet nod to the realities of theater — yet it still feels like a half-baked attempt to talk about race.

“Tom Lake” manages to feel both wandering and organic, while maintaining a neatly progressing arc of realizations. But it’s almost too neat: The reader slowly starts to make connections — recognizing the origins of each daughter’s name, recognizing their father, and their home, all within Lara’s dream-like story. Her husband, too, is miraculously never uncomfortable with this deep dive into his wife’s past love. But what kind of pandemic novel would it be if it wasn’t a little escapist? In fact, perhaps what makes this novel so agreeable despite being set in 2020 is that it captures not just the small, hidden, somewhat guilty pleasures of being trapped at home with family, but also both narrates and embodies the longing for escapism — for stories of levity, happiness, and joy.

Though it doesn’t shy from revealing moments of human suffering and sorrow, “Tom Lake” ultimately chooses cheeriness and heart, leaving readers feeling snug and content.

—Staff writer Sara Komatsu can be reached at [email protected] .

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by Ann Patchett ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 1, 2023

Poignant and reflective, cementing Patchett’s stature as one of our finest novelists.

It’s time to harvest the cherries from their Michigan orchard, but the pandemic means that Joe Nelson; his wife, Lara; and their daughters, Emily, Maisie, and Nell, must pick all the fruit themselves.

To lighten the lengthy, grueling workdays, and prompted by the recent death of world-famous actor Peter Duke, the girls press Lara to tell them about her romance with Duke at Tom Lake, a summer stock company in Michigan, and her decision to give up acting after one big movie role. Lara’s reminiscences, peppered by feisty comments from her daughters and periodic appearances by her gentle, steadfast husband, provide the foundation for Patchett’s moving portrait of a woman looking back at a formative period in her life and sharing some—but only some—of it with her children. Duke flashes across her recollections as a wildly talented, nakedly ambitious, and extremely crazy young man clearly headed for stardom, but the real interest in this portion of the novel lies in Patchett’s delicate delineation of Lara’s dawning realization that, fine as she is as Emily in Our Town , she has a limited talent and lacks the drive that propels Duke and her friend and understudy Pallas. The fact that Pallas, who's Black, doesn’t get the break that Duke does is one strand in Patchett’s intricate and subtle thematic web, which also enfolds the nature of storytelling, the evolving dynamics of a family, and the complex interaction between destiny and choice. Lara’s daughters are standouts among the sharply dawn characterizations: once-volatile Emily, now settled down to be the heir apparent to the farm; no-nonsense veterinarian-in-training Maisie; and Nell, the aspiring actor and unerring observer who anticipates every turn in her mother’s tale. Patchett expertly handles her layered plot, embedding one charming revelation and one brutal (but in retrospect inevitable) betrayal into a dual narrative that deftly maintains readers’ interest in both the past and present action. These braided strands culminate in a denouement at once deeply sad and tenderly life-affirming.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2023

ISBN: 9780063327528

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2023


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A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023


More by Kristin Hannah


by Kristin Hannah



Bill Gates Shares His 2024 Summer Reading List


by Kristin Hannah ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 3, 2015

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring  passeurs : people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the  Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014



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BookBrowse Reviews Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

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by Ann Patchett

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

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Tom Lake centers on a woman telling her grown daughters about her past, including a brief romance with a now-famous movie star.

"The thing about picking cherries is that you can look only at the tree you're on, and if you have any sense, you'll just look at the branch you have your hands in," says Lara, the narrator of Ann Patchett's Tom Lake . Lara and her husband own a cherry orchard in Michigan, and the book takes place during the harvest of the summer month, for which her three grown daughters are onsite to help. It's the middle of the pandemic, so there isn't much else to do, and they beg Lara to tell them the story of how she came to date heartthrob actor Peter Duke when she was younger. When Lara says you can only look at the tree you're on, she's also stating one of the novel's themes. Just as some of their cherries are sweet and some are tart, so are her memories (like everyone's), and it's wisest to focus on what's in front of you. Though the characters describe problems that may befall their crop at other times, the harvest is abundant and ripe. The scenes of Lara telling her story probably cover only a few days, but they have an eternal present tense about them, as long days of a summer spent in pandemic isolation do. When Lara revisits the past, those stories are told with the same immediacy, giving the reader a sense that the past and present are happening simultaneously. I couldn't believe how easy it was to get into the book and absorbed in Lara's story. As a writer myself, I took a lot of notes about Patchett's style here. Rather than crafting shimmering passages that call attention to her skill, Patchett's gift is to make herself disappear so we can better connect with the characters. Lara is likable and unpretentious. From the start we learn of her unlikely path to fame: while in high school, she observed auditions for the role of Emily in her New Hampshire town's production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town (see Beyond the Book ). She didn't think anyone did justice to the character and decided to audition herself. A Hollywood producer happened to see one performance and offered her a movie audition. Lara wasn't fame-hungry or ambitious; she just had a naturalness about her that worked (echoed by her unpierced ears and unprocessed hair). Lara's daughter Nell wants to be an actress too and can't believe her mother gave it up. Lara pithily observes, "[A]nd that is the difference between us: I was very good at being myself, while Nell is very good at being anyone at all." (Meryl Streep, also known for being capable of playing anyone at all, narrates the audiobook for Tom Lake .) The titular lake is the place in Michigan where Lara spends a summer doing Our Town and meets the pre-fame Peter Duke. The lake has a powerful presence in the story. As the characters spend endless hours in rehearsals, they start wearing swimsuits under their clothes so they can jump in for a swim as quickly as possible. The lake comes to represent the innocence and freedom of that summer, even in moments that lack these qualities. Lara learns that Peter is not as perfect as she thought, yet she's able to look back and appreciate that summer as a pivotal time in her life. In Our Town , the past and present converge into a reminder to appreciate everything, and the detailed nature of Lara's story reflects this sentiment. Yet, she omits details of a sexual nature for the sake of her daughters. Given that she regularly shares things with the reader she doesn't say aloud, I'd hoped for at least a few lines about sex. The events of Lara's life flow perfectly together, which makes it exciting when we learn how she goes from swimming with a movie star to owning a cherry orchard with a husband and kids. Also, that's really how life is: we never know if a single moment will turn out to be important or not, or when we'll see someone for the last time, or how what we will come to learn about them in future will change how we see the past. About Our Town , Wilder said, "It is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events of our daily life." In Tom Lake , a pandemic summer on a cherry orchard is the place to observe these small events—and to retell them so that the telling becomes an event as well.

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Beyond the Book:    Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) and Our Town


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Author ann patchett on writing about family secrets in new novel 'tom lake'.

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NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with author Ann Patchett on her latest novel Tom Lake , which tackles family, maternal love and the secrets a mother may choose not to share with her children.

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Book Review: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

By: Author Luka

Posted on Last updated: March 31, 2024

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This post may contain affiliate links. Read more here .

If you own a hammock, a vintage porch swing, or a snug bay window seat, Ann Patchett’s latest book, “ Tom Lake ,” will transport you there mentally.

It’s as if this novel has the power to disrupt your fitness tracker, even if you’re just strolling around with Meryl Streep narrating the audiobook in your ears.

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett


Ann Patchett is a celebrated figure in American literature, known for her novels, memoirs, and essays. She even established an independent bookstore in Nashville to stand against the Amazon giant. She’s like the literary Aunt everyone loves.

Her personal family history, complex and explicitly revealed after her semi-autobiographical work “ Commonwealth ” in 2016, adds depth to her storytelling. The themes of family intricacies continue in “Tom Lake.”

About the story

The novel invites you into a beautifully simple family setting, reminiscent of a nuclear family in its pre-modern definition. This time, the story revolves around three sisters in their twenties, situated on their parents’ cherry orchard in northern Michigan during the recent pandemic. Thornton Wilder’s influence is palpable in the narrative, reminiscent of “ Our Town .”

Lara, the mother of the sisters, shares her past as an actress during lockdown, creating a sense of tranquility despite the challenges. Flashbacks take us through Lara’s acting career, especially her role as Emily in “Our Town.”

The story uncovers Lara’s connections with Peter Duke, her former co-star and ex-boyfriend who went on to become a famous celebrity. The novel examines the concept of inheritance, both in terms of genetics and life experiences.

The daughters’ eagerness to know their mother’s past reveals Lara’s life lessons – that moments of loss and triumph aren’t fixed, evolving over time. The novel has a rustic charm, occasionally simplifying complex themes. While interruptions by the cherry orchard may frustrate, they serve the narrative’s purpose.

Underneath the surface

Beneath the surface, there lies a touching vulnerability in Lara’s daughters – their emotional resonance akin to delicate, bruised fruit. Lara’s purpose in sharing her experiences is to demonstrate that seemingly definitive moments of loss and triumph carry a malleability, an ability to transform over time.

As Lara unfurls her memories before her daughters like a cherished embroidered tablecloth, she unveils the fluidity of life’s highs and lows. The profundity of the forgotten and the transformation of joy and pain emerge as central motifs.

While there’s an undeniable rustic charm to the novel, occasionally carrying a plain-spoken wisdom that may border on simplification, it navigates its own sentimentality with a measured hand. Even as the story confronts expected turns, the emotional thread remains steadfast.

The interruptions caused by the cherry orchard’s activities may frustrate initially, yet they seamlessly align with Patchett’s intention to convey the essence of storytelling, emphasizing the art of revelation and restraint.

Family vibes

What really shines in “Tom Lake” is that cozy family feeling. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in country traditions and sayings, feeling like you’re right there with them.

Lara adds a special flavor to the family dynamic with her past as an actress. It’s like a splash of something unexpected that makes the family even more interesting.

Patchett has this way of sharing little nuggets of wisdom that make you think about life. The book isn’t just about the family – it touches on stuff like how we affect the environment and how time just keeps moving on. But it’s not a heavy read. It’s more like a gentle reminder to appreciate the small things and the connections we have.

“Tom Lake” may differ from Patchett’s previous work, yet it accomplishes a unique feat by portraying a life’s essence through cumulative insights. Lara’s middle age becomes a canvas for reflection, ultimately celebrating the transformation of past wounds into cherished stories. The novel invites readers to find solace in their own narratives.

Final thoughts

“Tom Lake” paints a cozy and folksy picture, filled with pies, quilts, and rural charm. Patchett weaves in country sayings and traditions, creating a warm atmosphere. Lara, despite her age, stands out in rural Michigan, adding to the unique character of the story. The book captures the essence of domestic happiness and generational ties.

Patchett’s subtle wisdom shines through the novel, offering insights into life’s truths and the importance of cherishing small moments. The narrative touches on the impact of human actions on the environment and the fleeting nature of time.

While not aiming to provoke, “Tom Lake” exudes a gentle reassurance, reminding readers of the beauty in everyday life and the connections that span generations. It’s a book that invites you to recline on a comfortable blanket and bask in the soothing glow of Patchett’s storytelling.

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Quick Recap & Summary By Chapter

The Full Book Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for Tom Lake by Ann Patchett are below.

Quick(-ish) Recap

The three-paragraph version: It's harvesting season at the cherry orchard that Lara and her husband Joe own, and as they work, Lara recounts a story to her three 20-something daughters of how she once dated Peter Duke, a famous actor. It starts with her being discovered by a director, Bill Ripley, during a community theater production of Our Town, which results in a movie role. She's then cast in another production of Our Town for a theater company in Tom Lake, Michigan. There, she meets a then-unknown actor, Peter Duke. Peter and Lara have a whirlwind affair. While in Tom Lake, Lara makes a trip to a nearby cherry farm belonging to the aunt and uncle of the show's director, Mr. Nelson. It's also revealed that Mr. Nelson is Joe Nelson, who Lara later marries. Lara is charmed by the place, and Duke falls in love with it, commenting that he'd like to come back here.

An injury eventually causes Lara to step down from her role, and her understudy takes over, who Duke secretly starts sleeping with. Bill comes to Tom Lake to bring a heartbroken Lara back to Los Angeles to do publicity for her movie, Singularity, and he scouts Duke while he's there. Once the movie is released, Lara decides she's done with acting. Meanwhile, Duke is on his way to becoming famous. Lara spends some time caring for her grandmother in New Hampshire before moving to New York to work as a seamstress at a theater, where she runs into Joe again and they get together. Joe has been supporting his aunt and uncle financially, and he eventually becomes the owner of their farm. Joe and Lara marry and move to the cherry farm.

In present day, it's revealed that Duke passed away two weeks ago, drowned while boating in Capri. Lara thinks about how she saw him two more times after that summer. Once, when he dropped by the farm years after she and Joe were married. The other instance, Lara does not tell her daughters about. When she was working as a seamstress in New York, he'd called her asking for her to visit him in a mental hospital near Boston, saying he needed to see her as part of his treatment program. She went, but he just wanted to have sex with her, and she complied. Four weeks after Lara tells her daughters the story about Duke, Sebastian shows up at their house. It's revealed that Duke actually purchased a place in the cemetery from the Nelsons many years ago, having once decided he wanted to be buried in their graveyard. Sebastian is here to put him to rest, and together they bury Duke.

The book switches from the present, the Summer of 2020, to the past as Lara recounts a story to her three 20-something daughters about how she once dated Peter Duke, a famous actor. Lara's daughters are all at their farm, Three Sisters Orchards , which Lara's husband Joe runs. Emily lives nearby with her boyfriend Ben after having moved back after college, and the other two, Maisie and Nell, have come back from college to isolate during the pandemic.

In Chapters 1-5 , Lara recalls how she starred in a production of Our Town in the role of "Emily". Bill Ripley, a director, was in the audience as a favor to his sister to watch his niece play a small role. Instead, he ends up approaching Lara and offering her a screen test in Los Angeles for a movie he's making. Lara is flown out twice, and she's given the role.

Meanwhile, in present day, due to many of their seasonal workers not being here, it's all hands on deck for cherry picking season. Joe relies heavily on Emily, since she studied horticulture and intends to take over the farm someday. Maisie is in veterinary school, while Nell is an aspiring actress. Emily's boyfriend Ben is busy helping his parents with their own harvest, since they own an adjoining farm.

As her story continues, Lara explains how the movie's release was delayed, so she ended up doing some commercials in the meantime. Then, after auditioning for and failing to get a role as "Emily" for an Our Town production on Broadway in New York, Lara is offered the opportunity to join a professional theater that needs an "Emily" for a production in Tom Lake, Michigan.

In Chapters 6-10 , Lara arrives in Tom Lake and meets Peter Duke, who charms her. They become an item early on, and it turns into a whirlwind romance. Lara is also fantastic as Emily. She meets Duke's brother Sebastian who comes to visit frequently, and he starts dating Pallace, Lara's understudy and friend. Meanwhile, the marquee name in the show is Albert Long, who used to play a beloved character on TV called "Uncle Wallace". However, Albert's drinking has worsened lately, and the director, Mr. Nelson is worried about it.

In present day, Emily mentions that she and Ben will likely get married between the cherry and apple harvesting seasons, though she's adamant she doesn't want kids because she feels so uncertain of what the world will look like for them and how climate change will affect their farm. Joe and Lara worry about what will happen to their beloved farm.

In Chapters 11-14 , shortly before the show opens, the director invites Lara to his aunt and uncle's cherry orchard along with Sebastian and Pallace. Lara is charmed by it, but Duke falls in love with the place. (It's also revealed at this point that Mr. Nelson is Joe Nelson, Lara's husband, though they don't fall in love until later.) Soon, the show opens. One night, Albert seems to be struggling through his performance, and as the final curtain closes he begins coughing up blood due to an esophageal varices caused by excessive drinking. He's taken to the hospital, and he dies a few weeks later. Joe takes over for Albert when his understudy declines to take on the role. Meanwhile, Duke has begun drinking a lot as well, using his character in the other production they're rehearsing for, Fool for Love , as an excuse since he plays a heavy drinker.

In present day, Lara muses about how she wishes she could've done more to save Duke from himself and from what eventually became of him.

In Chapters 15-18 , Lara ruptures her Achilles playing tennis, and she has pull out of the productions since she won't be walking for the next six months. Pallace takes her place as her understudy, and Duke start sleeping with Pallace. When Sebastian realizes this, there's a fight and he's out of the picture. Bill Ripley arrives at Duke's behest to take Lara back to Los Angeles, since their movie is also finally being released. Lara realizes Duke also brought Bill here to try to get him to see him in the play. Bill considers Duke for a part, and Lara spends the next month in Los Angeles. After all the press and the movie is released, Lara goes home and bids farewell to her life as an actress. Duke is cast in Bill's TV show and is soon on his way to becoming a movie star.

In Chapters 19 - 21 , Lara spends some time in New Hampshire caring for her grandmother Nell until she passes away. She then takes a job as a seamstress for a theater in New York. There, she runs into Joe and they get together. Joe has been supporting his aunt and uncle financially, and he eventually becomes the owner of their farm. Joe and Lara marry and move to the cherry farm.

In present day, it's revealed that Duke passed away two weeks ago, drowned while boating in Capri. Lara thinks about how she'd saw him two more times after that summer. Once, when he dropped by the farm years after she and Joe were married. The other instance, Lara does not tell her daughters about. When she was working as a seamstress in New York, he'd called her asking for her to visit him in a mental hospital near Boston, saying he needed to see her as part of his treatment program. She went, but he just wanted to have sex with her, and she complied.

Four weeks after Lara tells her daughters the story about Duke, Sebastian shows up at their house. It's revealed that Duke actually purchased a place in the cemetery from the Nelsons many years ago, having once decided he wanted to be buried in their graveyard. Sebastian is here to put him to rest, and together they bury Duke.

If this summary was useful to you, please consider supporting this site by leaving a tip ( $2 , $3 , or $5 ) or joining the Patreon !

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

(The book opens with Laura “Lara” Kenison recounting a story to her three 20-something daughters, Maisie , 22, Nell , 24, and Emily , 26.)

As Lara’s story opens, the community theater is holding auditions for a production of the play Our Town in the local high school gymnasium. Lara is a junior in high school, and she and her best friend Veronica have been roped into helping out with the play by Lara’s grandmother who is friends with the director, Mr. Martin . Laura’s grandmother owns Stitch-It, the local alterations place in town, and has volunteered to make costumes for the show. The turnout for the auditions is overwhelming.

Lara watches with interest at seeing people attempt to present themselves. She watches as they sometimes stumble and fail at it onstage, and Lara thinks to herself that “this was the first day of my true education”. At this point in time, Lara was still figuring out what she wanted to do with her life, as she contemplated ideas like becoming an English teacher or joining the Peace Corp or becoming a veterinarian.

In present day, Lara’s story is interrupted by Maisie, who is surprised to hear that her mother once considered becoming a vet, since Maisie is going into her third year of veterinary school. Meanwhile, Emily demands to know when they’ll get to the part about Peter Duke , a handsome, famous actor.

Continuing with the story, people get up to audition for the role of Stage Manager and then people are paired off to audition for the male and female leads of the show, the roles of “George” and “Emily Webb”. There’s one “George” that is particularly good (the “good George”), but Lara is irritated by the “Emily” auditions. “Emily” is meant to be the smartest girl in school but all the actresses play her as “if she were a half-­wit”, and none of the actresses are high-school aged.

Lara thinks to herself she’d do a better job than any of these actresses, and so she signs up to audition herself. She writes in her name, Laura Kenison, but since she’s reading Dr. Zhivago and wants to feel worldly and Russian, she adopts the spelling of the character in Dr. Zhivago and writes her name down as “Lara”.

Lara hands in her audition form to Veronica who is in the hallway chatting with the “good George”, whose name turns out to be Jimmy Haywood . Veronica tells her she’ll go last. Finally, Lara and Jimmy are up. When they’re done auditioning, Mr. Martin, Lara’s grandmother, and the other three men stand up to clap for them.

In present day, Lara says she’s going to switch to the “montage” version of this part of the story since it’s getting late. They ask about Veronica and Jimmy, and Lara says she lost touch with both of them. She adds that the play was a big success. It was originally planned for six shows, but was extended to sixteen shows.

They then ask again about Peter Duke, and Lara says he later played “Mr. Webb” in the Tom Lake production, referencing a different production of Our Town she did at a later time. Her daughters insist he must’ve played George, but Lara says he didn’t even if it would’ve made for a better story if he had.

Lara’s husband, Joe, soon comes in and reminds them it’s time for bed, since they all have work to do on the farm in the morning.

Continuing with the story, Lara signs up for drama club her senior year. She plays “Annie Sullivan” in The Miracle Worker and “Rosie DeLeon” in Bye Bye Birdie . She gets into Dartmouth and Penn, but ends up enrolling in University of New Hampshire with a merit scholarship. She still doesn’t know what she’s going to do with her life.

In 1984, her junior year of college, Lara sees a posting for a production of Our Town , and she decides to audition for Emily. She gets the role, and Bill Ripley , a director, happens to be in the audience on the night of the third performance. He’s there as a favor to his sister to see his niece play Mrs. Gibbs. After the show, he asks to speak to Lara.

Bill tells her that he’s casting for a movie, and he wants Lara to come out to Los Angeles for a screen test. He also asks her not to mention to others what she’s doing, since he doesn’t want it to get back to his niece, Rae Ann , that he’s casting for a part for someone her ago, but didn’t offer it to her.

That night, Lara thinks about how she might pay for a flight to Los Angeles and other logistics, but she’ll soon find out that Bill will have taken care of all of that.

In present day, Lara thinks of how nice it is to have all her daughters back in the house for the time being. Emily returned to their family farm after college, while Maisie and Nell are home for the summer and have been roped into helped out to pick cherries. Many of their seasonal worker are not available this year (due to the COVID pandemic), so they’re very short-handed and need all the help they can get.

As they all get ready for bed, Lara thinks about how her daughters regress in age when they’re around each other again. Maisie’s dog, Hazel , follows her around. Hazel was a rescue from the animal shelter where Maisie worked during her second year of veterinary school. Joe is already fast asleep, and Lara thinks about how the responsibility for their farm, Three Sisters Orchard , and everything that goes into it rests on his shoulders.

In bed, Lara’s mind drifts to the part of the story that she didn’t tell her daughters. Veronica didn’t end up going to college in order to help watch her younger brothers at home. Though, by then, she and Veronica were no longer close, and Veronica wasn’t sharing her plans with Lara anyway.

Veronica had been the one to first date Jimmy, and at the time they thought they were so lucky to be hanging out with someone six years older than them. Jimmy was also a math teacher, so he’d do their math homework for them. He’d stay over at Veronica’s place and sneak out early so her mom never knew.

Then, Jimmy had suggested to Lara that they spend more time together. She’d resisted at first, but gave in. One day, Mr. Martin had passed by them in the parking lot and commented that ““Fifteen will get you twenty, Mr. Haywood”, referring to her age and potential jail time. It wasn’t until later when Lara heard that phrase again that she understood precisely what it meant.

Their affair started with running lines in his car and light kissing, but eventually he asked her if she knew a place they could “stretch out”. They were never caught, but Veronica knew. It ruined their friendship. She later wondered why he didn’t pick one of the girls in his math classes instead, but then she realized he was probably sleeping with them, too.

The next morning, Joe and Emily get to work early while letting the rest of them sleep in. Emily, now 26, began expressing interest in taking over the farm eventually when she was in high school. She was always the only one out of the three with a real interest in agriculture. Maisie was interested in animals, while Nell was interested in people.

Despite her parents reminding her that she could do anything she wanted, Emily majored in horticulture at Michigan State and completed a agribusiness management minor. They worried that she was doing “penance” for “raising hell” when she was younger by devoting herself to their orchard.

When Emily was 14, she’d decided one day that she was certain Peter Duke was her father, citing the color of her hair as proof that she didn’t belong here in northern Michigan. While the color was indeed similar, Lara knew it was certainly not true. Still, Emily threw a fit about it, and her fixation on this idea would recede and then flare up again time after time. Emily didn’t have the words to explain her dissatisfaction with and insecurities about her life, her body and herself, so instead she channeled that frustration into her certainty that she belonged in Malibu with her real father, Peter Duke.

Joe was to some extent to blame for all of this, because Lara had never intended to tell the girls about her brief romance with Peter Duke. Instead, Joe had for no apparent reason brought it up one night when the girls were watching an old Peter Duke movie that they’d seen countless times before, The Popcorn King .

“You know your mother used to date him,” Joe had said, and the girls flipped out, relentlessly asking questions. They’d then wanted to immediately rewatch the movie with their newfound knowledge about Peter Duke’s relationship with their mother in mind. They eventually wrangled them to bed, but the girls’ interest in Peter Duke persisted. Two years later, Emily decided that Peter Duke was her father. Nell decided she wanted to be an actress, “though that might have happened anyway”.

The orchard has been divided up into parcels, and each person has their section to work on. Emily’s boyfriend is Benny Holzapfel, whose family owns an adjoining farm. Benny is very helpful in general, but is busy working on his own family’s farm right now. Joe has long dreamed that Emily and Benny would marry and the two farms would be joined.

Benny started showing up as a child to talk to Joe about his H-4 projects, though it was clear to Lara that his real interest was in Emily. Emily was always interested in farming and Benny as well, and her interest in Peter Duke faded.

It was Benny who believed in fresh-­market sweet cherries to help manage cash flow, and he was a sophomore in high school when he convinced Joe to swap out 40 acres of plums for dark sweet cherries. Lara was against the idea, since cherries have to be picked by hand and need to be aesthetically pleasing, unlike tart cherries where it doesn’t matter. Tart cherries are meant to be frozen and later boiled. But whereas frozen tart cherries can have a long turnaround time, sweet cherries have high turnaround and are sold for cash. Those sweet cherries have helped to put their daughters through school.

Now, as the Lara pick cherries with her daughters, they turn the topic back to her adventures in Los Angeles. Lara describes how she ends up leaving school in the middle of the semester to go to audition in California, and her grandmother sews her some clothes to wear in Los Angeles.

Lara says that she wasn’t a good actress, but others were doing too much and she did very little. However, Emily interrupts to say that she’s selling herself short. But Lara insists that she isn’t, she was merely good at being herself onstage “like being able to sing one song perfectly. It’s a great trick, but it’s only going to get you so far.” Still, Nell reminds her that they saw the movie and that she was “really good” in it.

Continuing her story, Lara says that Bill Ripley saw in her a “pretty girl who wasn’t so much playing a part as she was right for the part she was playing”.

Soon, Lara arrived in Los Angeles and she was driven in a limousine to a hotel with a swimming pool and a gift basket waiting for her. Everything seemed like something out of a movie. The next morning, they had her hair and makeup done before sending her in for the screen test. When they were done, Lara was shipped back to Durham.

Two weeks later, her mother called to tell her they wanted her back in Los Angeles for a second screen test. Again, she’s flown to Los Angeles, picked up by a limousine and taken to a fancy hotel. The next morning, Bill Ripley and the casting director meet her at the swimming pool ask her if she knows how to swim. When she says she does, they say they need to see her swim since not everyone looks good doing it.

When Lara is given a bikini to wear for her “swimming test”, she understands what the test is really for and feels a moment of rage. Then, she does a clean dive and “three laps with racing turns” to show them that she can, in fact, swim. When she gets back to New Hampshire, they let her know that she’s gotten the part, and they want her back there in four weeks.

This time, Lara is flown out first class, and she’s given a union membership and a small furnished apartment. A young woman, Ashby , is assigned to keep an eye on her and help acclimate her to things. On set, the cinematographer delights at the fact that Lara’s ears aren’t pierced. Meanwhile, Lara signs with an agent that Bill Ripley knows, and a $45,000 contract is negotiated.

Filming is soon delayed because the big name actress attached to the movie sprained an ankle, and Lara is not permitted to go back to school, just in case they need her. However, Lara’s agent manages to get her two very good commercials for — Diet Dr Pepper and for Red Lobster — in the meantime.

After the filming was done, there were a lot of delays in post-production and the release date kept getting pushed back. But Lara was happy in Los Angeles, doing commercials and two seasons of a “forgettable” sitcom.

Nell interrupts the story, frustrated with how much she aspires to be an actress, but it was so easy for someone to just hand her mother this role in a great movie and for her to continue getting jobs. Nell bemoans how her mother could have been famous, but Lara says she wouldn’t give up her life with the three of them for a life spent “making commercials for lobster rolls”.

Continuing her story, Lara explains how after three years the movie still wasn’t released, and she contemplated taking an acting class. Bill Ripley argued against it though, saying it would ruin her “unspoiledness”. She notes that Bill had seemed to take some responsibility for her since he was the one who brought her out here. Instead, Bill suggests that she audition for a production of Our Town on Broadway in New York, one where a big name, Spalding Gray , had already been cast for the “Stage Manager” role.

(Nell interrupts the story briefly to express disbelief that her mother auditioned for a Broadway show with Spalding Gray in the cast, and Lara quickly reminds her that she didn’t actually get the part.)

Lara had been full of confidence that the audition went well and that she’d soon be cast. Soon, she gets a call to meet with someone named Charlie . He says that Lara was terrific, but she’s too new. If her movie was out, it’d be a different story.

Here in this dark bar, Lara thinks that Charlie wants her to sleep with him to get the part and asks what she can do. However, Charlie laughs, and he mentions how long he’s known her “uncle”, and Lara realizes he’s under the impression that she’s Bill Ripley’s niece (which Bill likely told people as a form of protection for her, though she didn’t realize he had done that until now).

Instead, Charlie tells her about the Tom Lake production company, and they’re doing a production of Our Town this summer. He says that the artistic director is an old friend of his, and they just lost their Emily and need a replacement. He encourages her to go do it, saying that he thinks it’s going to be good for her.

The story is cut off when Joe says he needs at least one of them to help out in the barn with sorting the cherries. Emily goes to help, while Maisie says she has a call with one of her professors. When they’re alone, Nell asks if she really would’ve slept with Charlie to get that part, and Lara says she thinks she would’ve run off if he said yes. Still, Nell is upset at the thought that to get what she wants, she might be asked to do something she’d never want to do.

Lara thinks about how badly she wants to be able to tell Nell that “she will never be hurt, that everything will be fair, and that I will always, always be there to protect her”.

Continuing her story, Lara makes her way to Traverse City. The Executive Director of Tom Lake, Eric , explains that it’s been a troublesome season for them without their Emily. Additionally, their “Stage Manager” has always been Albert Long , their marquee name, and while he has long been a heavy drinker, it’s now become a problem. As they talk, Lara agrees to sign on for the season, which means playing Emily as well as doing the show “Fool for Love” at the end of the season.

When she arrives at the lake, Lara sees that Tom Lake is exceedingly pretty. Lara gets settled into her accommodations, and a tall, slender man comes by to bring her the schedule, who she soon learns is Peter Duke . Peter tells her a story about area, saying that it was once owned by a wealthy family, and there was a young son in the family.

One day, Tom is out walking with his nanny when he starts asking who owns the various things around. The nanny responds each time that it’s Tom’s father. Tom keeps asking and the nanny keeps giving him the same response. Finally, when Tom asks about the lake, the nanny decides to tell Tom that he owns it, even if it really is his father that owns it as well. But the answer delights Tom, and the nanny ends up telling the story to others in the house, and before long the lake becomes known as Tom’s Lake and eventually Tom Lake.

Peter then adds that there’s more to the story. When Tom is an adult, he decides it would be nice to be married at the lake, and plans his wedding with all his friends and family at Tom’s Lake. When they’re all there, he takes his bride-to-be for a walk around when she asks what the real name of the lake is. It finally hits him in that moment what happened back then with the nanny and that the lake probably is not actually named after him.

Then Peter says he tells her the truth about what happened and it sealed their love forever. As Peter finishes his story, Lara realizes Peter has been messing with her and that this whole story is something he made up. She asks him how the lake really got its name, and Peter says he has no idea.

Lara then asks him who he’s playing in the show, and Peter responds that he’s been cast as Editor Webb, newspaperman, Emily’s father.

As Lara takes a break in her story, she thinks about how she doesn’t think much about Duke, the famous actor, but her “feelings for the person who walked into my bedroom that first day at Tom Lake are more complicated”. She thinks of how wildly in love she fell for him and the mess it ended up being.

Maisie asks her how you get over someone like that and Lara equates it to a going to the carnival as a kid. It’s exhilarating and exciting, but one day you realize you don’t want that anymore and you can’t believe you ever did.

Over dinner, Nell asks Joe what he thought of Duke. Joe simply says that he was talented and everyone liked him. When pressed, he adds that Duke could do a handstand. Joe also talks about Duke’s brother Sebastian , a history teacher, and how good he was at tennis.

Continuing her story, Lara shows up for the table read, and Duke introduces her to each of the other members of the cast. Albert Long who plays the “Stage Manager” character has long been famous for playing a character called “Uncle Wallace” on TV, who Lara remembers fondly. Apart from him none of them are famous.

Then, the director, Mr. Nelson , goes ahead and kicks off the reading. As they get into the third act, Lara thinks about how she’ll eventually ago out of the role because “time was unavoidable,” and she thinks of all the women she saw audition in high school who she’d thought were too old for the part. When they conclude, Mr. Nelson is pleased with her performance and, after waiting this long for an appropriate Emily, tells them they can all “breathe an enormous sigh of relief”.

A phone call cuts into the story. While no phones are allowed at the table, Maisie is an exception because the neighbors have been calling her for her help with their animals. After getting off the phone, Maisie tells them she needs to go help the Lewers whose calf has “intractable diarrhea”.

As everyone disperses to take care of various things, Lara is left alone with Maisie’s dog, Hazel. She tells Hazel that she’s always tried to convince herself that “my career fell apart because I wasn’t any good, but now I’m starting to think it all fell apart because I had ceased to be brave.”

Continuing her story, Lara recalls how Duke offered to show her around. Lara asks him about their director, and Duke says that he’s a well-respected director and a lot of the people in this cast are probably trying to impress him in hopes that he’ll bring them in on a future project. Duke then tells Lara that she was wonderful today, and he gently kisses her. He offers her a cigarette, and she takes it even though she had never smoked before then. By the time they get back to their accommodations, they’re walking hand-in-hand to her room.

In present day, Joe notes to Lara that they’re alone in the house, and the two go upstairs to have sex before their daughters come home.

Later that night, Lara hears when Maisie and Nell return, with Emily staying at her own place. Maisie and Nell are still sharing a room, though technically Emily’s bedroom is available now.

The next morning, over breakfast, Maisie talks about the calf from last night, and Nell talks about her night spent playing Pictionary with Emily and Benny at their place. Nell then brings up how Emily and Benny are apparently planning on getting married, and Lara feels stung that Emily never said anything. Nell quickly explains that it doesn’t sound like there was a formal engagement or anything, it just sounded like something they were planning on doing between the harvesting seasons.

As they head out for work, Nell reminds Lara not to be upset about Emily. She says that Emily isn’t mad at her or anything, they were just “thinking out loud” about their plans and Nell happened to be there. When they catch up with Emily, she immediately tells Lara that “you knew Benny and I were getting married”. Lara can tell Maisie has already spoken to Emily. After some tears and a hug, the matter is put to rest.

Emily then admits that she’s feeling overwhelmed by the idea of planning a wedding. She wants to be married to Benny, but she doesn’t want the fuss of a wedding. She also asks them not to tell Joe since she wants to tell him. As they work, Emily asks Lara if she ever thought she’d marry Duke, and Lara says no.

Continuing her story, she awakes that next morning with Duke, a naked man she barely knows. They need to get to rehearsal so he tosses on one of the t-shirts. As they head into rehearsal, she sees Pallace , a Black girl with long legs that Duke introduces her to as her understudy.

Albert is not there yet that morning, so they proceed with his understudy, Lee . Lee is terrible. Albert finally shows up, blaming an alarm clock malfunction, at the end of the first act.

The girls cut in with questions about Lee and why he was cast. Lara says his family had money and hosted fundraisers for Tom Lake. Lee loved theater, but didn’t want to be an actor. He just wanted to be able to hang out with the actors. They also ask her about George, but she genuinely can’t remember him.

She thinks to herself that “There is no explaining this simple truth about life: you will forget much of it. The painful things you were certain you’d never be able to let go? Now you’re not entirely sure when they happened, while the thrilling parts, the heart-­stopping joys, splintered and scattered and became something else.”

Despite his drunkenness, Albert Long is fantastic as the “Stage Manager”. They’re concerned that his drinking seems so much worse, but they continue to focus on the fact that he’s never missed a performance in the past.

As the days continue, it becomes clear to everyone that Lara and Duke are a “thing”, and Lara falls in love with Tom Lake and Pallace and Duke. Soon, Duke’s brother Sebastian shows up on the set.

(Lara’s daughters interrupt the story to chat about Sebastian, or “Saint Sebastian” as people liked to call him. Emily, the most ardent Peter Duke fan, mentions their younger sister Sarah Duke , who Lara had forgotten about, though Sarah had passed away when she was four. Emily recounts how a journalist had brought her death certificate to an interview with him, and he’d simply walked out.)

Lara continues her story, to describe meeting Sebastian. Duke is delighted to have him here and helps him to get settled in. Meanwhile, Lara goes to see Pallace rehearse in Cabaret, a show that she’s in when she’s not understudying for Our Town. Lara watches her, exhilarated. Afterwards, Pallace expresses her romantic interest in Sebastian, saying that she likes that he’s not an actor.

In present day, the girls chat about Sebastian’s tennis record and the time he played against McEnroe, a famous tennis player, when he was 17. He didn’t win. Lara thinks about how at seventeen, he “must have thought of himself as someone who would make it. The number of things I’d failed to grasp back then was as limitless as the stars in the night sky”.

In addition to teaching U. S. History and World Civilization at University Liggett School in Gross Pointe Woods, Sebastian is also a tennis coach there. It was a three-hour drive to Tom Lake, but if he had a few days off in a row, he’d make the drive. Pallace and Lara would watched Duke and Sebastian play tennis. By now, Pallace and Sebastian are seeing each other.

Meanwhile, at work, Our Town is now a week out from opening, and they’re starting table reads for Fool For Love, where Duke and Lara will be playing half siblings. For all the happiness and fun of that time period, Lara soon discovered that there was something genuinely mentally wrong with Duke. He’d stay awake jotting down notebooks full of his thoughts deconstructing the characters he played. He had notebooks about his character in Our Town as well as notebooks on his character in Fool for Love.

Sebastian tried to help manage Duke’s more unhinged behavior, like when he tried to punch Sebastian when he wouldn’t give him the car keys to drive to a diner.

In present day, Emily finds out that Benny asked Joe for his blessing to marry Emily. Maisie teases them about negotiating a dowry as well. Emily then tells Maisie she can be the maid of honor and the only bridesmaid at all, since they want Nell to be the officiant. Nell is delighted with her role.

Joe laments that they’re not having a proper wedding, but Emily says everyone has too much work. Lara thinks it also probably has to do with Gretel Holzapfel’s asthma, since both Kurt and Gretel are careful to keep their distance (because of COVID). Benny is the youngest of his siblings. Lara recalls how Gretel had been upset to learn she was pregnant again, having already had three kids. His three siblings are all scattered elsewhere though, and Lara thinks about how their “midlife mistake alone will save them” because of Benny’s interest in running the farm.

The joy in discussing their wedding plans is dampened a little when Emily tells them that they have no intention of having kids. They say that because of climate change they feel uncertain about what’s going to happen on the farm and planet and therefore they don’t plan to have kids.

That night, Lara knows Joe spends it wondering if their other children will have kids and what might happen to their farm if there’s not another generation to care for it.

The next morning, Joe declares that they aren’t going to work today and instead they’re all going to go to the beach. Soon, the family makes their way to the shore of Grand Traverse Bay. There, Lara and Emily pick up the topic of kids again. Emily reiterates that she’s worried about the type of world her kids would inhabit if they were to have kids. Emily also points out that in Our Town , the character she’s named after dies in childbirth.

Emily also tells Lara that she used to resent her parents for burning up trees that were no longer producing enough fruit. They turned it into a party with the neighbors standing around drinking cider, partially because they needed them there to make sure the fire didn’t get out of hand, and Emily had hated it.

They eventually all go swimming, and when they’re exhausted, they return to the beach to rest. Emily asks Lara what her happiest day was that summer at Tom Lake was. Lara says it didn’t take place at Tom Lake.

Continuing her story, Lara says that before the show opens, she asks the director what his next job will be afterwards. Mr. Nelson says he’ll be in Traverse City, but he won’t be directing anything. He’s going to help his aunt and uncle out. They’re cherry farmers and that the need help on the farm and with sorting out their finances. He then suggests that they come see the farm.

So, the Monday before the show’s opening that Thursday, Lara makes plans to see the cherry farm.

In present day, the girls are delighted to hear this part of the story.

On Monday, Lara, Sebastian, Duke and Pallace all make their way to Traverse City. At an antique shop, Lara picks up some linen napkins to bring as a gift. When they arrive, Mr. Nelson comes out of the house to greet them.

(Lara’s daughters interject that it’s their house now, and they express excitement that Duke had been there.)

Inside, they’re introduced to Nelson’s aunt Maisie Nelson and her husband Ken Nelson . They tell their nephew Joe ( so it’s revealed at this point that the director Mr. Nelson is Lara’s husband Joe ) to give them a tour of the farm. He does, telling them about the various fruit trees they grow there.

As they walk by the family cemetery, Duke comments that he’d like to be buried here, but Nelson says that he’d have to marry into the family to do that. Duke lies down on one of the graves, and Sebastian chides Duke and tells him to get up. Then they keep walking and make it to the beach, revealing another beautiful view.

In present day, Joe pops in to ask what part of the story they’re at. The girls ask their father if he was in love with Lara even then, but he says no, mostly because he realized how in love with Duke she was at the time.

Their questions then turn to their father, asking him how he could’ve worked so hard to become a well-known director, only to decide to move here and become a cherry farmer. He simply tells them that he had two lives, and that he got everything he wanted.

The kids are convinced that Lara and Joe must’ve fallen in love that day, but they’re both adamant that they met at Tom Lake, but they didn’t fall in love until much later. Joe finally decides he’s going to go swim while they continue the story.

The week Our Town opened, they had also started rehearsals for Fool for Love. Whereas Lara was a natural at Emily, she struggled with her character in Fool for Love, “Mae”. Meanwhile, she starts to notice “Uncle Wallace”/Albert struggling in subtle ways, a missed mark here or line that’s delivered without the same energy there.

One night, Lara can tell something is very wrong. She sees Albert clenching his teeth in one of the earlier acts, and then by the third act, there is a scene where they’re walking together, and Albert ends up using her as a crutch. They make their way into the audience, and she sits him down in one of the chairs. Albert forces out his final lines, but as the curtain comes down, a stream of blood convulses out of his mouth. A doctor in the audience comes to look at him and an ambulance is called.

In present day, Lara explains that Albert had a rupture in the vein that runs along the bottom of the esophagus, which was the cause of the blood. He pulled through, but he didn’t stop drinking and passed away not long after.

Nell asks about Lee, Albert’s terrible understudy, and Joe says that Gene , the assistant director was dispatched to let him know he was being called up. Lee, who never thought this would happen, is told that he’s needed and he tries to argue. Finally, Gene tells him he’s expected to perform on Thursday, and Lee simply says the he would “prefer not to” and closes the door on him. Instead, Joe was forced to play the role instead.

Nell then comments to Lara that “you dated George, and then you dated Editor Webb, and then you married the Stage Manager”.

Continuing the story, the next day, Lara borrows Pallace’s car and goes to see Albert Long in the hospital. She meets his second wife, Elyse Adler , there, who mentions that his current (younger, third) wife is around here somewhere, too. Though Elyse says that this third marriage seems to be coming to a close. Elyse says she’s here to make sure he gets transferred to a bigger, more capable hospital in Chicago where he can get proper care.

Lara says that’s nice of her, considering they’re divorced, but Elyse says they have kids, explaining her feeling of responsibility towards him.

In present day, Emily looks him up and sees that he died July 28, 1988 at the age of 56. He left behind two kids. Lara looks at this information and thinks about how she didn’t realize that he had died a few mere weeks after she’d seen him that day. Lara comments that he was “my age”, and Emily points out that she’s actually 57.

In the kitchen doing dishes by themselves, Joe and Lara reminisce about their time performing together at Tom Lake. She asks him why he didn’t have the assistant director step in instead, and Joe says that he liked being onstage with Lara. He admits that maybe he really was in love with her back then.

Continuing the story, Lara thinks back to going into “Uncle Wallace”/Albert’s accommodations to pack up his stuff with Duke. Duke had been breezy about it, but Lara had been upset. In the fridge, they’d opened the freezer to see it was full of vodka.

Meanwhile, in Fool for Love, Duke played “Eddie”, who was a drinker, and Duke felt he should actually drink when the script called for it. Duke also suggested that Lara do the same, including in rehearsals, which she did not want to do. But the director, Cody , went with Duke’s idea.

In present day, after cleaning up, Lara heads over to their neighbor’s the Otts, who are having an outdoor movie night, watching a Peter Duke movie called The Promise Land. The girls are already out there watching. Lara recalls how there was a while when their kids were young that they stopped hanging out at certain times, and she realized eventually that they were scared of the pear trees. Once they lost their fruit and leaves, the trees appeared murderous and dark, and the kids didn’t want to walk past them.

Lara’s thoughts then turn to Peter the character he plays in this movie where he’s in trouble, having made bed decisions and unable to get himself out of it. In it, he turns from alcohol to drugs. Lara then thinks of the Peter in real life if she could’ve stopped what eventually happened to him if she’d refused to have alcohol onstage or had done something else.

She then admits to herself it’s “self-aggrandizement” since “No summer girlfriend ever changed the course of a movie star’s life. But still, I am sorry I didn’t try.”

Continuing the story, Lara thinks about how rehearsals for Fool for Love were often cut short, since the cast was only four people and they were all drinking the whole time. One day, Lara, Duke, Sebastian and Pallace are playing tennis when Duke throws up after drinking tequila all morning. With Duke out, Sebastian ends up giving Lara a tennis lesson. Lara plays her heart out until she suddenly falls over. Sebastian comes to asses what happened and realizes that her Achilles has ruptured.

In present day, the girls have questions about her injury. Lara establishes that it was a total rupture, so she wouldn’t be able to walk for six months. Nell pieces together that it meant Lara would have to drop out of not just Our Town, but also Fool For Love and Pallace would have to take her place instead.

As Nell says this, she starts crying. Lara realizes that Nell must be crying over her own career and the lost time due to being in isolation with the pandemic. Nell is “losing this time when she is beautiful and young in a profession that cares for nothing but beauty and youth”.

Continuing with the story, Lara recalls how Sebastian had carried her a long distance to his car to take her to the hospital, reassuring her that it would heal up eventually and that she will walk and play tennis again.

In present day, the kids ask Joe about Lara’s two-day stint in the hospital, and he says that he went to see her, but she was asleep. He lied and told them he was her brother so they let him in afterhours, and he sat by her bed.

Continuing with the story, Lara soon receives a call from Bill Ripley, who had heard about her accident since they put him down as her emergency contact. He tells her he also needed to talk to her anyway, since she needs to come back to Los Angeles because their movie, Singularity , is being released. Bill wants her there for publicity, but he reassures her that she can do all of it sitting down. He also tells her that things are going to change for her now that the movie is coming out.

Sebastian soon comes to pick her up from the hospital, finds a wheelchair for her and takes her to watch Pallace as Emily in Our Town. Someone named Chan helps to wheel her around on the wheelchair. Pallace is wonderful as Emily, and Lara thinks about how she loves Emily’s world but would likely never play Emily again.

In present day, it’s raining and there is lightning which means no work. As Hazel shivers in fear, Lara talks about how Duke and Pallace briefly get together once she started playing Emily. She says that Duke never said anything to her about it, but it was obvious for the way they were acting that something was going on.

Continuing her story, Lara explains that without a part to play, she needed something to do in Tom Lake and she ends up working with Cat , who does the costumes on the show. Lara offers to do the mending, since that’s something she can do sitting down. As they work, Cat tells her about the brief affair she’d had with Albert Long when he first started spending summers at Tom Lake.

Pallace starts distancing herself now that she was secretly sleeping with Duke, and Sebastian stops coming around as much. He returns for the opening of Fool for Love, and he mentions that Pallace had suggested that she was too busy for the last week or so to see him. When they watch them kiss in the last part of the show, it’s clear what’s going on. Sebastian leaves after the curtain falls, and that’s the last Lara sees of him.

In present day, Lara tells them that apparently Sebastian had gone backstage to find them and that there’d been some type of fight between the brothers. Pallace had been crying and drink.

As the girls try to guess what happened next, Lara continues the story.

The day after Fool for Love’s opening, Lara is crying in bed when Ripley shows up, having been beckoned to Tom Lake by Duke to take Lara to California. Ripley says that Duke told him that “this place is finished for you, which I took to mean he’s finished with you and would like to see you vacated but that’s not my business.”

Lara also realizes Duke’s real reason for bringing Bill out here. Duke knows he’s meant to be a movie star and he knows Lara will get him out to see the play, even if he’s disappointed her because “he knew I was exactly that kind of fool”. She does, and the next morning they head out without her ever saying goodbye to Duke. On the drive to the airport, Ripley tells Lara that he might have a part for Duke, though he says that he resents that Duke used Lara as an excuse to drag him out to Michigan to see him.

For the next month, Lara hangs out in Los Angeles, and Ashby tends to her while Bill watches out for her. He makes her quit smoking, by telling everyone who works for him not to buy cigarettes for her. They watch a screening of Singularity, and Lara is set to do press interviews on her crutches, which charms people.

Still, at the end of it all, Lara decides to leave Los Angeles, even though Bill tells her she’s making a mistake.

In present day, the girls talk about how after that Duke ended up in a show that Bill directed, Rampart, which won ten Emmys. They then pester Lara with questions about how she eventually got back together with their father, and Lara tells them that didn’t happen for another three or four years, but they plead for more details.

Continuing her story, Joe spends the rest of the summer at the cherry farm and then goes to Chicago to direct a play. Meanwhile, Lara went back to New Hampshire to stay with her grandmother until she died, who Lara had always been close to. Macular degeneration caused her grandmother to close down her tailoring shop around the time Lara had moved to Los Angeles.

Three months after Lara returns, she and her grandmother Nell are watching a show about early detection for breast cancer when her grandmother mentions that she has a lump. Soon, they’re meeting with a bunch of oncologists to try to manage her cancer. One day, grandmother Nelle sleepily mentions someone named Brian . Lara asks her mother, who tells her it’s her brother who died in the snow. When Nell passes away, they bury her next to Brian.

Afterwards, Lara ends up reaching out to Cat, who was the only person from Tom Lake that she kept in touch with. Cat knew a costumer in New York who was looking for a seamstress, so Lara moves to New York. One day, she’s working at the theater when she hears someone refer to her as “Emily”, which turns out to be Joe. They end up leaving the theater together that day, laughing.

They stayed in New York for a while, though they returned to Michigan that next summer to visit, and they stayed with Ken and Maisie at the cherry farm. Joe had been giving them money to stay afloat and even directed a few lucrative peanut butter commercials to help pay the bills. Eventually, Ken told him he’d given them enough money over time that he basically owned the farm. Then, one morning, Joe suggests they marry and move to Michigan. Ken and Maisie move to Arizona to live with their daughter.

In present day, the kids ask if she ever saw Duke again, and she says she did once more.

In October of 1997, Duke show up without warning at the farm. Emily is 4 and Maisie is 2, and Lara is pregnant with Nell. Duke is surprised to see Lara there. Lara sees that he’s wearing a wedding ring. Duke remembers the farm vividly, but has forgotten that she was here with him. She asks him how Sebastian is doing, and he says that Sebastian runs his production company now. It takes a while before he pieces together that Lara married Joe Nelson.

Duke says that he’d been thinking about asking to buy the farm to make sure nothing changes, but instead he just asks to walk around, and he wants to see the cemetery.

Joe finally shows up and shakes Duke’s hand.

In present day, they talk about seeing on the news a while back that Duke had died. He was on a boat in Capri, and he drowned. They’d all been worried about telling Emily the news, knowing how attached she’d once been to the idea of him being her father.

Lara then thinks to herself about the one other time that she saw Duke, but she doesn’t tell her daughters this part. This was in New York after she’d met Joe again, but before they’d moved to Michigan. Duke was famous by now and he’d called her up to tell her he was in a hospital outside of Boston and he’d asked her to come visit as part of a therapeutic exercise he was assigned to do.

She agrees and takes a bus to Boston. By now Duke is married to someone named Chelsea , though apparently they’re somewhere in the process of divorcing. He gives her a tour of the treatment center and explains that he’s contractually obligated to stay here and go through this program. He has to check in with them every 15 minutes, but he asks her to go to the bathroom, and he says he’ll meet her in there. When she does, he lifts her up onto the sink and they have sex. Then, she leaves.

Outside, Lara feels shaken and runs into Sebastian. They have dinner together and catch up. Sebastian tells her that the Pallace thing didn’t last long, and he didn’t see her again. He also tells her that Ripley has been helping him find jobs in Los Angeles. He adds that Ripley was always in love with Lara, but he was “waiting for you to grow up, you know, so it wouldn’t seem so weird”.

In present day, it’s been six weeks since Duke’s boating accident and four weeks since Lara finally told her daughters the Peter Duke story. Sebastian Duke, now 61, shows up at their house. He’s here to lay his brother, who was 60 at the time of his death, to rest.

Sebastian talks about how Peter had fallen in love with place when he came to visit and kept wanting to purchase it. He’d made numerous offers to the Nelsons, and finally he’d asked if he could just purchase a place in the cemetery. He offered them a sum that was more than five years of revenue combined, so they said yes, and it probably paid for their move to Arizona.

The book ends with them all finding a place for Duke and burying his ashes. Lara thinks about how Sebastian is welcome to be buried here someday too if he likes.

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In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return to the family's orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew.

Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart. As in all of her novels, Ann Patchett combines compelling narrative artistry with piercing insights into family dynamics. The result is a rich and luminous story, told with profound intelligence and emotional subtlety, that demonstrates once again why she is one of the most revered and acclaimed literary talents working today.

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Chapter 20. I re read chapter 20 and she went to the hospital to see Duke before her and Joe got together in NY. “His brief reappearance came in the period after my grandmother had died but before Joe returned”. Pg 290.

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Book review: ‘religionless christianity: god’s answer to evil’.

Church must be focused on truth and unfazed by popular culture

"Religionless Christianity: God’s Answer to Evil" (book cover)

The Christian church is once again at a historic crossroads.

What has emerged in the past few years is a society antithetical not only to traditional Christian beliefs but also to plain old human decency and good old-fashioned science. The Christian connection to common decency and objective science is incontestable. And the current negation of reasonable decorum (children must not be exposed to cross-dressing exhibitionists) and basic science (trans-sex does not equal biological reality) is unmistakable.

How did the emergence of extraordinary confusion and evil arise, and how can it be extricated? Enter “Religionless Christianity: God’s Answer to Evil” by Eric Metaxas. The book is an urgent follow-up to the author’s “Letter to the American Church.”

Mr. Metaxas asserts that, before today, America has faced two make-or-break threats in its history. The first was at its founding with the War of Independence from Britain, and the second was the Civil War.

Now, America is facing a third existential threat to its existence, with myriad nefarious forces arrayed against it. In America, we face “forces from within and without that are devotedly dedicated to eradicating all Washington and Lincoln and every patriot in our history held dear and fought for.”

The proffered solution is “religionless Christianity.”

The concept of “religionless Christianity” derives from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s coining of the term in stark opposition to Christian practice that is merely superficial piety and playing church. Bonhoeffer is the pastor-theologian who warned the German church in the 1930s of Hitler’s malevolence.

Although the German church of the 1930s was sadly unreceptive, Mr. Metaxas believes that Bonhoeffer “knew that if we would embrace a ‘religionless Christianity,’ we really would defeat the evil that is otherwise impossible to defeat and see God’s glory in our generation.” Furthermore, “‘religionless Christianity’ has always been a dramatic and revolutionary force for good. This is an undeniable historical fact, but do we in the church know it well enough not to be cowed into silence on it?”

With 14 engaging and lucid chapters, “Religionless Christianity” covers the gamut from the origin of today’s predicament through the church’s culpability to the possibility of an imminent Last Days. Throughout, Bonhoeffer is referred to in “Religionless Christianity” as an example of the extreme challenges of living out a committed faith during the Third Reich and the disasters that follow Christian noncommittal and aloofness.

The final chapter in “Religionless Christianity,” aptly titled “Be Greatly Encouraged,” concludes with a truly hopeful solution solidly based on biblical references.

An overall theme of “Religionless Christianity” is this: “True Christianity knows no real boundaries because it is allied with Truth itself, which has no boundaries.”

Those grounded in the truth are encouraged to stay strong in their faith and not be discouraged or bullied by the seemingly insurmountable events of the day.

In 1967, the book “How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious” by Fritz Ridenour was originally published for teens and young adults by Gospel Light Publications. The book was based on the teachings found in the book of Romans and guided readers on a path akin to religionless Christianity. Reading “How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious” many years ago changed my commitment to Christian practice, and today, Religionless Christianity has certainly enriched that change.

Finally, a word of caution: Scripture warns that “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” So, readers of “Religionless Christianity” are advised to make sure the Holy Spirit is leading any actions they take.

And with the Lord’s leadership at this critical time in history, let the church continue to follow the road of the cross and practice religionless Christianity for the church’s own sake, the sake of the nation, and indeed the sake of the world.

• Anthony J. Sadar is an adjunct associate professor of science at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and co-author of “ Environmental Risk Communication: Principles and Practices for Industry” (CRC Press).

Religionless Christianity: God’s Answer to Evil

By Eric Metaxas Regnery Faith, April 23, 2024 140 pages, $25.99

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MSI's Claw 8 AI+ is first Lunar Lake handheld gaming console, comes in Fallout-themed version

The sequel to the original MSI Claw promises more performance.

MSI Claw 8 AI+

The market for handheld gaming PCs keeps growing, as evidenced by MSI 's release earlier this week of its second-gen, Ally X device. However, most of these consoles are powered by AMD's Ryzen Z1 or Z1 extreme APUs, leaving Intel as an also-ran in this emerging category. But MSI broke some new ground when it released its Claw handheld this spring and it came packing an Intel Meteor Lake Core Ultra 7 155H CPU .

Today at Computex 2024 , MSI announced the next-gen version of its handheld, the MSI Claw 8 AI+, which will be powered by Intel's upcoming Lunar Lake CPUs and will have an 8-inch screen — which is one inch larger than the original Claw A1M. 

We stopped by MSI's booth where the Claw 8 AI+ was running a demo, but under glass where we couldn't touch it. Still, the 1920 x 1080, 120 Hz screen looked really colorful; MSI claims that it has an  "IPS-level" level panel, which can reproduce 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut at up to 500 nits. The RGB lighting around the joysticks also looked really nice.

The Claw 8 AI+ also will have a powerful cooling system called "Cooler Boost Hyperflow", which has two rans and two heat pipes. It has a larger battery -- an MSI rep said it would be 80 Whr vs 53 Whr on the original -- than its predecessor and MSI claims that it uses advanced Hall effect joysticks and "triggers with exceptional precision." 

A company rep said that the device has not one, but two Thunderbolt 4 ports for connecting to docking stations and power. MSI also promises that there will be a new version of MSI Center M, the UI and launcher that comes on the Claw, by the time this system launches in 2025.

The company also announced that there will be a 7-inch Fallout version of the Claw, called the Claw Fallout 4 Limited Edition. According to the press release, this will feature "a unique design inspired by the Fallout series’ Vaults, Pip-Boys, and robots, offering fans an immersive experience in the game's post-nuclear apocalypse atmosphere."

I had a chance to see and touch the Fallout 4 Claw, which has the same specs as the current-gen Claw A1M. It simply has a Fallout skin so, if you really like the game, this could be for you.

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Whether the Claw 8 AI+ will make a positive mark remains to be seen. We did not get a first-gen Claw to review, but our colleague Tony Polanco of sister-site, Tom's Guide, had a lot of issues with the Claw A1M — particularly with the software that came with it at launch. If Intel wants to make a dent in the handheld market where major players such as Asus and Lenovo are choosing AMD's chips, well, MSI needs to stick the landing. 

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  • Notton This time, I hope MSI does fine tuning of their BIOS before they launch. Claw 1.0 was a massive disappointment at launch because Intel and MSI didn't bother optimizing, and fell into a weird spot where the i5-135H was faster than the i7-155H Reply
  • Metal Messiah. Here you can see some specs, and real pics. It has been fully confirmed that this new console will boast an 80 watt-hour battery . The same as ALLY X console. There are also two USB4 ports. Reply
  • cknobman MSI did not even fix the problem, LMAO. It still uses Intel. Hard pass. Reply
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House of the dragon season 2 review: hbo promised war, but you're not ready for how good it is.


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How Every Main Character In House Of The Dragon Dies In The Books

The biggest dragons in game of thrones & house of the dragon, house of the dragon season 2 reviews breakdown: 9 biggest takeaways.

  • House of the Dragon season 2 returns strong, beginning The Dance of the Dragons with exciting character interactions and smart plotting.
  • The standout performances of Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen and Tom Glynn-Carney as King Aegon II shine in the first four episodes.
  • The spectacle in season 2 rivals Game of Thrones , with moments that capture the horrors of war and power of the Targaryens' dragons.

House of the Dragon is back after almost two years away, and it's a mostly strong return from the Game of Thrones prequel. In a sense, a lot of the hard work for House of the Dragon season 2 has been done — season 1 re-introduced the world, spanned decades, and went through multiple recastings. Season 2, in contrast, has a settled cast, no time jumps, and The Dance of the Dragons begins in earnest. The prequel's return picks up shortly after House of the Dragon season 1's ending , and begins building in exciting ways from there, although not everything lands.

House of the Dragon

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House Of The Dragon Season 2 Begins With Classic GOT Table-Setting... And Some Big Moments

Things are already starting to move quickly.

 Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) and Prince Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) in House of the Dragon season 2

A lot of what's in the first couple of House of the Dragon season 2 episodes is pretty much what you'd expect. Similar to Game of Thrones ' approach, it's about getting the pieces back in place, and setting up the board for the chess moves to begin. There are plenty of small council scenes, conversations in dimly lit rooms, and characters starting to scheme and plot.

It's not reinventing (or breaking) the wheel and not all interactions are equal, but it's mostly very well done. The best parts of Game of Thrones were often conversations between two characters. I don't think House of the Dragon has quite the same breadth of characters who can live up to that, but with the right ones, it does achieve it.

...Despite the truncated episode count (only eight instead of 10), I don't think anyone needs to worry too much about this repeating the pacing problems of Game of Thrones season 8.

There are, a little more surprisingly, some bigger moments in those opening episodes, which isn't something Game of Thrones typically did in its first few seasons (outside of Joffrey Baratheon's death), of course. However, despite the truncated episode count (only eight instead of 10), I don't think anyone needs to worry too much about this repeating the pacing problems of Game of Thrones season 8 . The pace gradually increases across the first four episodes and there's a good understanding of how the war is playing out and why decisions are being made, meaning the buildup makes a lot of sense.

House Of The Dragon Season 2's Cast Is Great - With Two Clear Standouts

Emma d'arcy & tom glynn-carney are the highlights of episodes 1-4.

House of the Dragon 's cast was uniformly great in season 1, but one concern I did have coming into season 2 was how the absence of Paddy Considine's King Viserys might impact things. He gave, for me, the best performance in season 1, and one that rivaled the best in Game of Thrones too. And while he has two candidates trying to fill his throne, he's not easy to replace.

A custom image featuring Rhaenyra, Alicent, Daemon, and Viserys I in House of the Dragon

Fire & Blood explores the rise and fall of the Targaryen. Here is how every main House of the Dragon character dies according to Westerosi history.

Maybe I shouldn't be too surprised that Considine's best replacement is... well, Viserys' replacement, Tom Glynn-Carney's King Aegon II. The actor appeared late in season 1 and, while he was good, there weren't many shades to Aegon. That changes in season 2, where he gets to showcase a lot more range. Like Viserys, he provides the show with much-needed humor and levity, but there's also a real tragedy to the character, and you can feel how his role weighs heavily upon him. It's a terrific performance, and I was shocked by how much I liked Aegon in the first four episodes .

Rhaenyra begins the season mourning the loss of her son, Lucerys, and you really get to feel all of her raw pain, grief, and anger...

The other standout is, less shockingly, Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen. Already great in season 1, they take things to new heights this year. Rhaenyra begins the season mourning the loss of her son, Lucerys, and you really get to feel all of her raw pain, grief, and anger, while at the same time watching as she tries to hold it together and make the right calls as a ruler. It's a phenomenally nuanced performance that finds a wonderful balance between emotion and restraint, and absolutely deserves to be in awards contention when the time comes.

Some Parts Of House Of The Dragon Season 2 May Divide Audiences

The show makes some surprising choices, for better and worse.

Alicent Hightower in House of the Dragon season 2

For the most part, I think anyone who liked House of the Dragon season 1 should be very much on board with season 2, but there are some... let's say interesting narrative and character choices, which book readers, in particular, may not agree with. It's difficult to get too into the weeds of these without spoilers, but there were definitely some changes from Fire & Blood that I didn't expect — some of which worked, some of which didn't .

This is true of any adaptation, of course, but particularly when turning an in-universe historical account into a TV show with characters who need to feel like living, breathing people with a lot more detail and depth. I get why most of the changes were made (and season 1 had plenty too). There are some changes that add new layers to characters and a much greater sense of intrigue to their arcs, while others lose a bit of impact (one moment I was particularly hyped for left me cold), and some will just be purely divisive.

When The Dance Of The Dragons Begins, It's Truly Epic

House of the dragon delivers dragon spectacle that rivals game of thrones.

Vhagar the dragon in House of the Dragon season 2

The Targaryen civil war is called The Dance of the Dragons for a reason, and House of the Dragon season 2 does begin to live up to that name. Some of the bigger battles will come later down the line — season 3 should have a lot, based on the book — and season 2 does pull a couple of narrative tricks that feel a bit like early Game of Thrones in getting around fights, but it's all to keep its powder dry for when the Dance does truly explode.

Custom image three dragons in Game of Thrones

From The Black Dread to beautiful blue dragons, Game of Thrones has some of the most stunning dragons in fantasy. Which ones are the biggest?

Again, without getting into spoilery territory, I'll just say that the spectacle here, in terms of dragon action specifically, rivals anything in Game of Thrones . From the beginning, I've really appreciated how House of the Dragon makes its dragons all feel distinct (something I never quite felt its predecessor achieved), but there's a true brilliance to seeing them unleashed. A couple of scenes made me gasp, others really captured the horrors of war (and unfathomable power of dragons) that is at the heart of George R.R. Martin's world, and Vhagar, in particular, remains a terrifying prospect.

If it can build on that momentum, then forget Team Green or Team Black - we'll all be winners.

Ultimately, halfway through House of the Dragon season 2, I'm happy with what I've seen and excited for where things will go. I was a little more uncertain after the first two episodes, which are a bit more uneven and where I have bigger complaints, but episodes 3 and 4 are superb, and have some of my favorite moments of the show so far. If it can build on that momentum, then forget Team Green or Team Black — we'll all be winners.

House of the Dragon season 2 will begin Sunday, June 16, at 9pm ET on HBO and Max. The second season consists of eight episodes, and is rated TV-MA for sex and nudity, violence and gore, profanity, and intense scenes.

book reviews for tom lake

Taking place about 172 years before the events of Game of Thrones , House of the Dragon tells the tale of the rise of the Targaryens, the only family of dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria.

  • The dragons are distinct and season 2 unleashes the dragons fully in its action
  • Tom Glynn-Carney and Emma D'Arcy are standouts in their roles as Aegon II and Rhaenyra
  • Season 2 has plenty of outstanding spectacle
  • HOTD Season 2 has big moments that nicely build upon what came before
  • Certain changes from the book don't land when adapted to the screen

House of the Dragon (2022)

A very 1980s illustration in an airbrushed style showing a collage of young urban professionals in office wear with champagne flutes, big cellphones and sculpted haircuts. The twin towers are in the background. The clouds are pink behind it. In the foreground, a man and woman ride in a gray convertible surrounded by a fuchsia glow and glittering silver coins are raining down on the hood and windshield.

The Long Life of Yuppie Scum

In “Triumph of the Yuppies,” Tom McGrath revels in the stories of a generation that turned its back on protest and bought into consumer culture.

In the 1980s, America saw a surge of college graduates who moved to cities and avidly pursued material comforts. Credit... Luca Schenardi

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Jacob Goldstein is the host of “What’s Your Problem?,” a podcast about business and technology, and the author of “Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing.”

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TRIUMPH OF THE YUPPIES: America, the Eighties, and the Creation of an Unequal Nation, by Tom McGrath

In 1967, a bushy-haired Jerry Rubin walked onto the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange with a few friends and flung dollar bills down to the trading floor. Rubin, a co-founder of the activist group the Yippies, was delighted when the traders on the floor piled on top of one another to grab the money.

A decade and a half later, Rubin went back to Wall Street — as a securities analyst. “Politics and rebellion distinguished the ’60s,” Rubin wrote in a New York Times opinion piece announcing his surprising new job. “Money and financial interest will capture the passion of the ’80s.” Rubin had gone from Yippie co-founder to yuppie elder statesman.

In his breezy history, “Triumph of the Yuppies,” Tom McGrath sets out to explain the social and cultural transformation that Rubin embodied. What happened in the 1980s? Why did the United States suddenly fall in love with finance while inequality skyrocketed ? And what, McGrath asks, did the yuppies have to do with it?

Yuppies — the young urban professionals who flocked to cities to renovate old townhouses, eat at interesting restaurants and make lots of money — were a fraught psychographic from the jump. The word showed up in print as early as 1980, in a Chicago magazine story questioning the notion that a yuppie-led “urban renaissance” was underway in cities across the country.

But something was happening. Recent college grads were choosing cities over suburbs. And, as the journalists who kept writing articles about them kept pointing out, the yuppies were not even pretending that they didn’t care about money.

McGrath, the former editor in chief of Philadelphia magazine, makes this open pursuit of wealth his central theme as he alternates among snapshots of yuppies, the national political scene and major figures in American business.

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Pulitzer-winning journalist made sure to get Maine right in new crime novel

Tom Ricks, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who has a home on Deer Isle, set the mystery 'Everyone Knows But You' in coastal Maine.

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Thomas E. Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has set his first mystery novel in Maine, where he’s lived for years. Photo by Alessandro Vulcano

Tom Ricks came up with a list of the five books that helped him write his new crime novel, “Everyone Knows But You.”

WHAT : Book launch event for “Everyone Knows But You,” by Thomas E. Ricks

WHEN : 6 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE : Mechanics’ Hall, 519 Congress St., Portland

HOW MUCH : $5; $30 for admission and a signed copy of the book

WHAT ELSE : Ricks, who lives half the year on Deer Isle, will talk about the book and take questions. Books will be available for purchase.


And none of them was a crime novel.

Three were works of Maine history and social context: “The Lobster Coast” by Colin Woodard, “The Lobster Gangs of Maine” by James Acheson and “Liberty Men and Great Proprietors” by Alan Taylor, about clashes over land in Maine just before and after the American Revolution. The other two were the novel “Abide with Me” by Maine author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout and the classic children’s picture book “One Morning in Maine” by Robert McCloskey.

Ricks, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for journalism, has been coming to Maine off and on for about 30 years and has had a house on Deer Isle since around 2010. So both the state and getting the facts straight are important to him. He admits he likes that, in writing fiction, he can make up the story. But he refused to make up Maine.

“There is a uniqueness to Maine, and I wanted to get the culture and feel of the place right. I did not want to caricature it,” Ricks, 68, said from his home in Deer Isle.

Book review: Maine lobsterman’s murder launches wily, affecting thriller

Ricks’ new book – his first crime novel and only his second work of fiction in a 40-plus-year career – went on sale last week. He’s having a book launch event  Tuesday night at Mechanics’ Hall in Portland, where he’ll read from the book, talk about it and take questions from the audience. It’s the story of an FBI agent who seeks solitude in Maine after his wife and two children are killed in a car crash but finds himself investigating a murder in an isolated fishing village. He also finds himself delving into drug trafficking and other illegal activities. Advertisement

The book is the first in a planned series. Ricks said he’s already written the second book and is “mapping out” a third.

book reviews for tom lake

Ricks was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, but as a child lived for several years in Kabul, Afghanistan, where his father, a college psychology professor, got a teaching job. He remembers falling in love with words when he was around 5 years old and became interested in word origins, or the stories of the words.

As a kid in Afghanistan, he also fell in love with traveling and, as a young teenager, traveled around the country on buses. It was a place that was so different than the U.S., a place that had its own unique stories and history.

“I loved it there. I learned to sort of speak Farsi and just knocked around the country,” Ricks said. “It’s a beautiful country with fascinating people. Unfortunately for them, they’ve now been through about 40 years of war.”

Ricks went to Yale University and thought he’d become a teacher. He had some friends who were from Maine and became interested in exploring the state. He spent a couple of summers during college working in the northern Maine woods for International Paper, as a timber marker. It was his job to mark the trees that were going to be cut down. Advertisement

“I liked Maine, and I thought if I could get a job getting paid to walk in the woods, that would be great,” Ricks said. “Nobody told me about the black flies and mosquitoes.”

He graduated from Yale in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. He went to Hong Kong to teach English and American language at Lingnan College. He found that most of his friends there were writers and reporters. Because of those connections, he wrote a few pieces for The Asian Wall Street Journal, including one on hiking in Indonesia.

“I realized I didn’t like teaching that much, but I really liked writing,” said Ricks. His pieces for The Wall Street Journal helped him land a job writing for the Wilson Quarterly, an international politics magazine based in Washington, D.C. From there, he landed jobs at larger news publications.

Ricks has spent most of his career writing for newspapers, covering international affairs and the military. He was part of a team at The Wall Street Journal that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for a series on the U.S. military challenges after the Cold War and into the 21st century. He was also part of a team at The Washington Post that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for reporting on the beginnings of the U.S. war on terrorism. He’s also written more than a half-dozen nonfiction books on those topics, including “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq,” which was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction.

When he was covering the military in the late 1990s, he decided to write a novel, “A Soldier’s Duty,” about intrigue in the Pentagon. But after that novel came out in 2001, publishers weren’t “knocking down my door” to ask for another novel, Ricks said, so he stuck to journalism and nonfiction.

Ricks left The Washington Post in 2008 to write books full-time. He said over the years he’s found writing big picture nonfiction books to be exhausting, because any slight change during the editing process can change something very crucial and make it incorrect. Advertisement

book reviews for tom lake

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas E. Ricks at his home on Deer Isle. Photo by Mary Kay Ricks


Ricks and his family have been coming to Maine on vacations for some 30 years. But more than 15 years ago, he and his wife, Mary Kay Ricks, started thinking about moving to Maine full time, after living for years in Washington, D.C. He said they drove up the coast, visiting towns and peninsulas, keeping in mind they probably couldn’t afford anything near or on the water within an hour or so of Portland. As they drove around and explored places, Mary Kay’s threshold was simple: She said she wanted to see a place that made her heart sing. Which is what happened when the couple drove over the bridge to Deer Isle.

In Maine, they explored the coast in sea kayaks, and then by sailboat, and have done a lot of hiking. Ricks got a lobster license and has a penchant for grilling his own fresh-caught lobsters. He says the difference between boiled and grilled lobster is like the difference between boiled and roasted potatoes.

The couple lived in Deer Isle full time for about four years but found the winters a little long. Now, they spend half the year in Maine and half the year in Austin, Texas. But when Ricks turned to the idea of writing a crime novel a few years ago, “for fun,” he turned to Maine for the setting. And he read tons about the state, researched its history, and talked to or read other Maine writers.

Ricks, who has also covered law enforcement, had an idea for a mystery involving an FBI agent from away who is working out of the agency’s Bangor office. The dead body he investigates is on federal land, on the portion of Acadia National Park that is on Isle Au Haut. The agent, Ryan Tapia, finds himself not only trying to solve a crime but trying to tiptoe his way through the rules and customs of rural, isolated Maine, on fictional Liberty Island.

There’s a map in the book of “Ryan Tapia’s Maine” that mixes real place names like Camden and Belfast with fictional ones like Rockfish and Liberty Island. On the map, Liberty Island covers the same area as the real towns of Deer Isle and Stonington. Advertisement

“Maine is just so different in so many ways from the rest of the country, especially in rural (areas) or on islands, so I liked the idea of a FBI agent sort stumbling his away along there,” said Ricks.

One example of how the book juxtaposes Maine thinking with logic from away is when the FBI agent is trying to identify a dead body that was washed up on shore. The body has no fingerprints, wallet or form of ID. So Tapia is stumped. But a local park ranger picks up the lobster buoy wrapped up with the body and tells Tapia who it belongs to.

“He’s an outsider who has a hard time learning how things are done, while everybody else around him knows what’s going on,” said Ricks.

Ricks not only read books about Maine history but also books about preindustrial cultures, since Maine “peaked” economically before the Industrial Revolution really hit the rest of America, Ricks said.

Woodard, a Maine-based journalist and author who happens to have a home Deer Isle but has not met Ricks, said that, based on Ricks’ background, it makes sense that he’d put a lot of thought, reading and research into a work of nonfiction.

“It’s not surprising that he researched this book with the same intensity he applied to his other works of nonfiction,” said Woodard, a former Press Herald reporter who is now director of the Nationhood Lab at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Affairs at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. “As a journalist or nonfiction writer, you take pleasure in figuring out what actually happened, how things actually are.” Advertisement

book reviews for tom lake

Maine crime and mystery writer Katherine Hall Page, a neighbor of Ricks’ on Deer Isle who talked about mystery writing with him. Photo by Jean Fogelberg

Before writing his crime novel, Ricks talked to another Deer Isle resident who happens to be an accomplished mystery writer, Katherine Hall Page. In May, Page received a Grand Master honor as part of the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe awards. Her book “The Body in the Web” won the best crime fiction honor at the Maine Literary Awards on May 30.

Page said she talked to Ricks about the importance of authentic people and places. But as someone who also loves and sets stories in Maine, she cautioned him not to “fall in love with the place too much” at the expense of the story.

“Sometimes, if the author doesn’t have enough of a story to tell, the description of the place becomes padding,” Page said.

Page read a version of Ricks’ book before the final printing and thinks he found a perfect balance of people and place.

“I think he nailed it, with an incredibly sympathetic Maine character (Tapia),” Page said. “He explores grief, but it’s still a murder mystery. We mystery writers need to keep our eyes on the prize.”

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Tom Lake: A Novel

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Ann Patchett

Tom Lake: A Novel Paperback – Large Print, August 1, 2023


In this beautiful and moving novel about family, love, and growing up, Ann Patchett once again proves herself one of America’s finest writers.

“Patchett leads us to a truth that feels like life rather than literature.” — The Guardian

In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return to the family's orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew.

Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart. As in all of her novels, Ann Patchett combines compelling narrative artistry with piercing insights into family dynamics. The result is a rich and luminous story, told with profound intelligence and emotional subtlety, that demonstrates once again why she is one of the most revered and acclaimed literary talents working today.

  • Print length 464 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Harper Large Print
  • Publication date August 1, 2023
  • Dimensions 6 x 1.05 x 9 inches
  • ISBN-10 0063347725
  • ISBN-13 978-0063347724
  • See all details

Get to know this book

What's it about, amazon editors say....

book reviews for tom lake

Patchett's gift for rendering that very specific feeling of youthful independence, love, and ambition is pitch perfect.

book reviews for tom lake

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book reviews for tom lake

Editorial Reviews

"One of our greatest living chroniclers of love and marriage—and its resounding impacts over generations—is back. . . . Expect wonder; Patchett always delivers." — Elle

" Tom Lake is a book to be savored—the once-in-a-blue-moon type." — San Francisco Chronicle

“A swoony, luminous reminder about the endurance of love and happiness in a broken world.” — Oprah Daily

“A tender, absorbing tale about becoming who we are.” — People

"A searching reflection on the relationships between theater and life, romance and realism, Tom Lake is perhaps Patchett’s finest novel yet.” — Boston Globe

" Tom Lake is about romantic love, marital love and maternal love, but also the love of animals, the love of stories, love of the land and trees and the tiny, red, cordiform object that is a cherry. . . . This generous writer hits the mark again with her ninth novel." — Washington Post

"Wise. Beautiful. With an elegant soft touch….Brilliant, of course.” — Good Morning America

“A quiet and reassuring book . . . highly conscious of . . . [the] human failure to appreciate the little things.”  — New York Times

"The perfect summer novel." — The Atlantic

"Tom Lake is about love in all its many forms. But it is also about death and the ephemeral and how everything goes by so damned fast. It is an elegy of sorts but also a promise that there will be magic no matter what.” — Los Angeles Review of Books

"Patchett’s intricate and subtle thematic web…enfolds the nature of storytelling, the evolving dynamics of a family, and the complex interaction between destiny and choice….These braided strands culminate in a denouement at once deeply sad and tenderly life-affirming. Poignant and reflective, cementing Patchett’s stature as one of our finest novelists." — Kirkus Reviews   (starred review)

"As this spellbinding and incisive novel unspools, Patchett brings every turn of mind and every setting to glorious, vibrant life, gracefully contrasting the dazzle of the ephemeral with the gravitas of the timeless, perceiving in cherries sweet and tart reflections of love and loss.” — Booklist (starred review)

"Patchett is at the top of her game." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Patchett is a writer of enormous warmth.” — Wall Street Journal

"A compelling narrative about the secret lives of parents—and how to find happiness in the midst of a long life.” — Time

"[A] poignant novel from Ann Patchett, caring as ever." — Vanity Fair

" Tom Lake …[takes] its time to marvel over the quiet drama of ordinary living: a strong marriage, a loving family, a place to gather at the end of the day.” — Houston Chronicle

"Tom Lake is a beautiful, stirring book that sneaks up on you and makes a deep impression, partly because you’re left asking yourself: “What have I just read?” The moment I finished it, I wanted to go back and start again." — Sunday Times (London)

" Tom Lake is a warm, funny book about kind people who do the best they can." — Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[Patchett] writes with deep attention to our country’s changing culture while never taking her eye off narrative. Each book uses a traditional storytelling structure — lyrics, midrash, folk tales — while pushing at the edges of what a form can contain, cramming it with modern human concerns, triumphs and tragedies.” — Los Angeles Times

“Who is better, more nuanced, or more surprising on matters of love and family than Patchett?. . . . A heady voyage into the past, with a delicately observed story that is also constantly shifting the ground beneath our feet." — Literary Hub

"Subversively wise and self-aware." — New Yorker

"Fans of  The Dutch House  and  Commonwealth  will be more than satisfied with Ann Patchett's latest novelistic exploration of love and family dynamics." — Harper’s Bazaar

"Patchett's prose is elegant, her wit abundant, her sense of family dynamics and the complexities of love subtle and insightful. Tom Lake is an enthralling story." — Tampa Bay Times

"Across her oeuvre Patchett has proven herself a generous, meticulous mentor, and Tom Lake is one of this year’s triumphs.” — Chapter 16

"Patchett, beloved bookseller and chronicler of people thrown together in patched families and hostage situations, turns her attention to love — youthful, marital, fleeting, enduring." — NPR

“Meryl Streep…is ideal for narrating Tom Lake …. Streep delivers with her signature whimsy, her cadence lilting from wide-eyed innocence to winking wisdom, blurring the nostalgia for small-town Americana with dashes of big-city dreams." — New York Times Book Review

"Tom Lake is Ann Patchett’s best novel." — Hudson Review

"With her latest novel, Patchett is unabashedly Chekhovian…. If you’re so inclined, Meryl Streep narrates the audiobook, which allows you to savor every word as only a consummate actor like Streep can deliver them.” — Broadway Direct

"Intelligent, poignant,…absorbing….It channels great literature…[and] showcases storytelling expertise." — Washington Examiner

“Best of all in my reading experience this year was Ann Patchett's  Tom Lake ….It's a beautiful, loving story. And its echoes of  Our Town  are spot on.” — Daily Kos

"Reading the book feels, deliciously, like slipping into 'Our Town' and having a conversation with it; it’s both tribute to the play and a moving story of its own." — Seattle Times

"Patchett is a consummate storyteller whose fluid, naturalistic writing style makes reading her novels an effortless journey…. Tom Lake does not disappoint." — Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Ahh…Ann Patchett has a new read and we couldn’t be happier….It’s cozy, and feel-good, and we recommend reading with a bowl of cherries.” — The Skimm

"This rich and subtle tale is infused with insight into love, loss and the power of making the right decisions." — Woman & Home (UK)

"Patchett celebrates not just the smallest events of our lives, but “small” lives themselves." — Financial Times

"A new Ann Patchett novel is always cause for celebration... and Tom lake could be one of her best." — inews

“Patchett masterfully weaves an evocative story of love, hope, and familial bonds, offering a profound meditation on finding happiness amid life’s uncertainties.” — BookBub

“[This] quiet novel awakens gratitude for life’s lessons.” — Christian Science Monitor

About the Author

Ann Patchett is the author of novels, most recently the #1 New York Times bestselling Tom Lake , works of nonfiction, and children's books. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the PEN/Faulkner, the Women's Prize for Fiction in the UK, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her novel The Dutch House was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. President Biden awarded her the National Humanities Medal in recognition of her contributions to American culture. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the owner of Parnassus Books.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harper Large Print; Large type / Large print edition (August 1, 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 464 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0063347725
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0063347724
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 15 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 1.05 x 9 inches
  • #740 in Coming of Age Fiction (Books)
  • #946 in Family Life Fiction (Books)
  • #2,733 in Literary Fiction (Books)

About the author

Ann patchett.

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels, including Bel Canto, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction. She writes for the New York Times Magazine, Elle, GQ, the Financial Times, the Paris Review and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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book reviews for tom lake


  1. Book Review: 'Tom Lake,' by Ann Patchett

    "Tom Lake" is a quiet and reassuring book, not a rabble-rouser. ... Each week, top authors and critics join the Book Review's podcast to talk about the latest news in the literary world.

  2. "Tom Lake," Reviewed

    In "Tom Lake," Patchett's ninth and newest novel (Harper), members of a summer theatre troupe in rural Michigan in the nineteen-eighties coalesce into something like an incestuous family ...

  3. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

    Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart. As in all of her novels, Ann Patchett combines compelling narrative artistry with piercing insights into family dynamics.

  4. Review: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

    Review: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. By Heather Caliendo. Published: March 19, 2024. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett is a quiet and introspective novel about how one's past impacts the present and future. I saw the cover of Tom Lake everywhere last summer. The book is a huge success—a Reese Book Club Pick and a NY Times Bestseller.

  5. Book review: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

    Ann Patchett's new novel, " Tom Lake ," is not. "Tom Lake" is about romantic love, marital love and maternal love, but also the love of animals, the love of stories, love of the land and ...

  6. 'Tom Lake' Review: Ann Patchett's Latest Novel Is A Warm Hug

    August 30, 2023. Ann Patchett's "Tom Lake" may very well be the first pandemic novel that anyone actually likes. Set among the cherry trees of northern Michigan in the summer of 2020 ...


    TOM LAKE. by Ann Patchett ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 1, 2023. Poignant and reflective, cementing Patchett's stature as one of our finest novelists. It's time to harvest the cherries from their Michigan orchard, but the pandemic means that Joe Nelson; his wife, Lara; and their daughters, Emily, Maisie, and Nell, must pick all the fruit ...

  8. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett: Summary and reviews

    In Ann Patchett's novel Tom Lake, the main character fondly remembers starring in a production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.This is Wilder's best-known play, which debuted in 1938 to mixed reviews but earned him a Pulitzer Prize that same year, making him the only writer to have received the award in both fiction and drama.

  9. Book review of Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

    By Ann Patchett. Tom Lake is a gorgeously layered novel from Ann Patchett that meditates on love, family and the choices we make. Ann Patchett once again proves herself a master of the family narrative in Tom Lake, which, like her previous novels The Dutch House and Commonwealth, spans decades yet still feels intimate, offering well-drawn ...

  10. Review of Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

    In Tom Lake, a pandemic summer on a cherry orchard is the place to observe these small events—and to retell them so that the telling becomes an event as well. Reviewed by Erin Lyndal Martin. This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2023, and has been updated for the December 2023 edition.

  11. Tom Lake Review: An Interesting and Helpful Take

    Tom Lake is an absolutely mesmerizing Ann Patchett book — a #1 New York Times bestselling Reese's book club selection. And, this Tom Lake review gives both something more to reflect on for those who read it, as well as helpful tips for indulging in this literary masterpiece for those who have yet to read it.

  12. Book Marks reviews of Tom Lake by Ann Patchett Book Marks

    From the author of Bel Canto and The Dutch House.In the spring of 2020, Lara's three daughters return to the family's orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake.

  13. Author Ann Patchett on writing about family secrets in new novel 'Tom Lake'

    Transcript. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with author Ann Patchett on her latest novel Tom Lake, which tackles family, maternal love and the secrets a mother may choose not to share with her ...

  14. All Book Marks reviews for Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

    An engaging exploration of contentment, Tom Lake is less heavy-hitting than the last two novels, but those who want fiction to soothe, bolster and cheer will love it. Read Full Review >>. Rave Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Sunday Times (UK) Patchett has displayed a rare ability to conjure complex human dynamics on the page.

  15. 'Tom Lake' Review: Ann Patchett's Spotlight on the Past

    The question, posed in the final act of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" by 25-year-old Emily Webb Gibbs, who has recently died in childbirth, underpins Ann Patchett's radiant ninth novel, in ...

  16. Customer reviews: Tom Lake: A Reese's Book Club Pick

    Tom Lake refers to a (fictional) summer stock theater in northern Michigan in the 1980s, close to the locale of the current 2020 timeline--- a cherry farm (and pears, and apples). The late eighties marked a luminous period for protagonist/narrator Lara, a time that she walked the fine line between adulting and adulthood, coming of age amid a ...

  17. Book Review: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

    Final thoughts. "Tom Lake" paints a cozy and folksy picture, filled with pies, quilts, and rural charm. Patchett weaves in country sayings and traditions, creating a warm atmosphere. Lara, despite her age, stands out in rural Michigan, adding to the unique character of the story. The book captures the essence of domestic happiness and ...

  18. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett: Book Recap, Chapter Summary & Review

    Book Review. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett was released in August of 2023, and in addition to being a Reese's Book Club pick, it also has the distinction of having an audiobook that's narrated by Meryl Streep. I wasn't sure at first if it was going to make the cut onto my already lengthy reading list, but the Meryl Streep thing pushed it over ...

  19. Tom Lake: Recap & Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

    Peter and Lara have a whirlwind affair. While in Tom Lake, Lara makes a trip to a nearby cherry farm belonging to the aunt and uncle of the show's director, Mr. Nelson. It's also revealed that Mr. Nelson is Joe Nelson, who Lara later marries. Lara is charmed by the place, and Duke falls in love with it, commenting that he'd like to come back here.

  20. Tom Lake: A Reese's Book Club Pick

    Hardcover - August 1, 2023. #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A REESE'S BOOK CLUB PICK. In this beautiful and moving novel about family, love, and growing up, Ann Patchett once again proves herself one of America's finest writers. "Patchett leads us to a truth that feels like life rather than literature." —The Guardian.

  21. BOOK REVIEW: 'Religionless Christianity: God's Answer to Evil'

    The book is an urgent follow-up to the author's "Letter to the American Church.". Mr. Metaxas asserts that, before today, America has faced two make-or-break threats in its history. The ...

  22. MSI's Claw 8 AI+ is first Lunar Lake handheld gaming ...

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