Originally published December 2019
If only Instagram had been around when the Conroys were growing up in The Dutch House.
Or, more aptly, when Andrea moved into the Dutch House.
She would have ate that up.
Ann Patchett knows family drama. Especially the quiet and devastating kind. In “Commonwealth,” it’s a kiss that changes the course of two families. In “The Dutch House” it is a mother’s decision to bail on her family that changes the course of events for the novel’s two main protagonists, Maeve and Danny. When their mother leaves a house because she knows she will lose her mind of she stays, the door opens to that petite viper Andrea and her young daughters, Norma and Bright. Out with the old, in with the new.
Lives changed forever. And lives that won’t let go of the past.
Danny and Maeve spend a lot of time together, as the course of events dictates when Andrea kicks them out of their family home. And, as the reader discovers, the siblings have co-dependency down to an art, complete with the occasional smoke break in a car outside their old abode. Their bond is so tight that nothing can come between it.
Not a job.
Not a wife. (Poor Celeste.)
And even when the Conroy sibs try to put old habits to rest, the past finds a way of catching up with them. Enter the prodigal mother.
Only the best relationships survive third wheels. For Elna and Cyril, it’s the Dutch House. For Danny and Celeste, it’s Maeve. For Andrea and Cyril, it’s his kids. For Danny and Maeve, it’s their mother. This story, for me, is an homage to third wheels and how the two fight against the one in the push and pull of the relationship.
At the end of the day, all I can think besides how much I love Maeve and appreciate her absolute grit is the aforementioned Instagram. Would people really ever know the shit that was going down if they were following Andrea on the ‘Gram? (Maeve would not be on Instagram. Instead, she’d have about 15 burner accounts on Twitter talking trash about her stepmother. Celeste would have been on Facebook and Danny would be hiding from all of them.)
I loved this story and can easily picture it being a barn burner for a book club meeting. So many perspectives, so little time. Put it on the list for 2020.