One of our recommended books is Tom Lake by Ann Patchett


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

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.

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

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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  • Harper
  • Hardcover
  • August 2023
  • 320 Pages
  • 9780063327528

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About Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is the author of Tom LakeAnn Patchett is the author of novels, works of nonfiction, and children’s books. She has been the recipient of numerous awards including the PEN/Faulkner, the Women’s Prize in the U.K., 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. 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.


A Reese’s Book Club Pick

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

“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)

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

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

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

‘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




That Veronica and I were given keys and told to come early on a frozen Saturday in April to open the school for the Our Town auditions was proof of our dull reliability. The play’s director, Mr. Martin, was my grandmother’s friend and State Farm agent. That’s how I was wrangled in, through my grandmother, and Veronica was wrangled because we did pretty much everything together. Citizens of New Hampshire could not get enough of Our Town. We felt about the play the way other Americans felt about the Constitution or the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It spoke to us, made us feel special and seen. Mr. Martin predicted a large turnout for the auditions, which explained why he needed use of the school gym for the day. The community theater production had nothing to do with our high school, but seeing as how Mr. Martin was also the principal’s insurance agent and very likely his friend, the request was granted. Ours was that kind of town.

We arrived with our travel mugs of coffee and thick paperback novels, Firestarter for Veronica and Doctor Zhivago for me. I liked school fine but hated the gym and everything it stood for: team sports, pep rallies, vicious games of kickball, running in circles when it was too cold to go outside, formal dances, graduations. But on that Saturday morning the place was empty and strangely beautiful. The sunlight poured in through the narrow windows just below the roofline. I don’t think I’d ever realized the gym had windows. The floors and the walls and the bleachers were all made of the same strips of pale wood. The stage was on one end behind the basketball hoop, its heavy red curtains pulled back to reveal matte-black nothingness. That’s where the action was scheduled to take place. We had instructions to set up one banquet table and five folding chairs in front

of the stage (“Close but not too close,” Mr. Martin had told us) and then ninety-two feet away, under the opposing basketball hoop, we were to set up a second banquet table right in front of the doors to the lobby. That second table was for registration, which was our job. We wrestled the two folding tables from the storage closet. We brought out folding chairs. We were to spend our morning explaining how to fill out the form: Name, Stage Name if Different, Height, Hair Color, Age (in categories of seven years – please check one), Phone Number. The hopefuls had been asked to bring a headshot and a résumé, listing all the roles they’d played before. We had a cup full of pens. For people who arrived without résumés there was space to write things in, and Veronica was prepared to take a Polaroid of anyone who didn’t have a headshot and then paper-clip it to the form. Mr. Martin told us we weren’t to make anyone feel embarrassed for having less experience because, and this was what he actually said, “Sometimes that’s where the diamonds are.”

But Veronica and I were not theater girls. Theater girls had not been asked to do this job in case they wanted to try out for a part. We were regular girls who would’ve had no idea how to make adults feel judged based on their lack of theatrical experience. Once we had the person’s paperwork, we were to hand over the pages they would be asked to read from, which Mr. Martin told us were called “sides,” along with a number printed on a square of paper, and then we would direct them back out to the lobby to wait.

When the doors opened at eight o’clock, so many people flooded in that Veronica and I had to hustle back to our table to get ahead of the crowd. We were instantly, overwhelmingly at work.

“Yes,” I assured one woman and then another, “if you read for Mrs. Gibbs, you’ll still be considered for Mrs. Webb.” What I didn’t say, though it was rapidly becoming evident, was that if you read for Emily you would still be considered for Emily’s mother. In a high school production it was not uncommon for someone fifteen to play the parent of someone seventeen, but community theater was a different cat. That morning the hopefuls were all ages, not just old men looking to be the Stage Manager, but college types who came to read for Emily and George. (The Emilys wore too much makeup and dressed like the Amish girls who sold cinnamon buns at the farmer’s market. The Georges slyly checked out the other Georges.) Bona fide children approached our table announcing they were there to read for Wally or Rebecca. Parents must have been looking for childcare because what ten-year-old boy announces over breakfast that he wants to be Wally Webb?

“If all these people come back and buy a ticket, they’ll have a smash on their hands,” Veronica said. “The whole production can go straight to Broadway and we’ll be rich.”

“How does that make us rich?” I asked.

Veronica said she was extrapolating.

Mr. Martin had thought of everything except clipboards, which turned out to be a real oversight. People were using our table as a desk, creating a bottleneck in the flow of traffic. I tried to decide if it was more depressing to see the people I knew or the people I didn’t know. Cheryl, who worked the register at Major Market and must have been my mother’s age, was holding a résumé and headshot in her mittened hands. If Cheryl had always wanted to be an actress, I didn’t think I could ever go to the grocery store again. Then there were the rafts of strangers, men and women bundled in their coats and scarves, looking around the gym in a way that made it clear they’d never seen it before. It struck me as equally sad to think of these people driving for who knew how long on this frozen morning because it meant they were willing to keep driving here for rehearsals and performances straight into summer.

“‘All the world’s a stage,’” Veronica said, because Veronica could read my mind, “and all the men and women merely want to be players.”

I accepted a résumé and headshot from the father of my friend Marcia, which she pronounced Mar-see-a. I had sat at this man’s dinner table, ridden in the back seat of his station wagon when he took his family for ice cream, slept in the second twin bed of his daughter’s rose-pink bedroom. I pretended not to know him because I thought that was the kindest course of action.

“Laura,” he said, smiling with all his teeth. “Good morning! Some sort of crowd.”

I agreed that it was, then gave him his number and the sides and told him to go back out to the lobby to wait.

“Where’s the restroom?” he asked.

It was mortifying. Even the men wanted to know where the restroom was. They wanted to fluff up their hair that had been flattened by sock hats. They wanted to read their part aloud to themselves in the mirror to see how they looked. I told him the one by the Language Arts Center would be less crowded.

“You girls look busy,” my grandmother said. She came up from behind us just as Marcia’s father walked away.

“Do you want a part?” Veronica asked her. “I know people. I can make you a star.” Veronica loved my grandmother. Everyone did.

“I’m just here to take a look.” My grandmother glanced back to the table in front of the stage to indicate that she would be sitting with Mr. Martin and the theater people. My grandmother, who owned Stitch-It, the alterations shop in town, had volunteered to make the costumes, which meant that she’d volunteered me to make the costumes as well since I worked for her after school. She kissed the top of my head before crossing the long, empty stretch of the basketball court towards that faraway table.

Auditions were to have begun promptly at ten, but thanks to the clipboard situation it was past ten-thirty. Once everyone had been registered, Veronica said she would cull out small groups according to their numbers and the roles they had come for, then herd them down the hallway to wait. “I’ll be the sheepdog,” she said, getting up from our table. I would stay and silently register the stragglers. Mr. Martin and my grandmother took their seats with three other people at the table in front of the stage and just that fast the gym, which had been booming all morning, fell to silence. Veronica was to escort the would-be actors down the hall and up the stairs, through the backstage, and right to the edge of the stage when their names were called. The actors waiting to audition were not allowed to watch the other auditions, and the actors who had finished their auditions were instructed to leave unless specifically asked to stay. All the Stage Managers would go first (the Stage Manager being the biggest and most important part in the play) followed by all the Georges and Emilys, and then the other Webbs (Mister and Missus and Wally) and the other Gibbses (Doctor and Missus and Rebecca). The smaller roles would be awarded on a runner-up basis. No one leaves home hoping to land the part of Constable Warren, but if Constable Warren is what you are offered, you take it.

“Mr. Saxon,” Mr. Martin called out. “You’ll be reading the beginning of the second act.” All the Stage Managers would be reading the beginning of the second act.

That I could hear the light shuffle of Mr. Saxon’s footsteps crossing the stage surprised me. “I’m first?” Mr. Saxon had failed to consider that this would be the outcome of arriving at a high school gym half an hour before the doors opened.

“You, sir, are the first,” Mr. Martin said. “Please begin when you’re ready.”

And so Mr. Saxon cleared his throat and, after waiting a full minute longer than what would have been merely awkward, he began. “Three years have gone by,” he said. “Yes, the sun’s come up over a thousand times.”

I continued to face the lobby as I had all morning, though now those two sets of double doors were closed. Mr. Martin and my grandmother and the people sitting with them were far away, their backs to me, my back to them, and poor Mr. Saxon, who was dying a terrible death up there, was doubtlessly looking at the director and not the back of a high school girl. Still, as a courtesy, I did not turn around. He went all the way to the end of the page. “There! You can hear the 5:45 for Boston,” he said finally, his voice flooded with relief. The reading lasted two minutes and I wondered how anyone could have thought it wise to have picked such a long passage.

“Thank you very much,” Mr. Martin said, his voice devoid of encouragement.

Such a sadness welled in me. If Veronica had been there we would have played a silent game of hangman, adding a limb for every word Mr. Saxon hit too plaintively. We would have refused to look at each other for fear of laughing. But Veronica was in the hallway, and no one had come in late the way we’d been so sure they would. As it turned out, the auditioners had all had the same idea: arrive promptly, register, and stand in line as directed—thus proving themselves to be good at taking direction. Mr. Martin called out for the second hopeful, Mr. Parks.

“Should I start at the top of the page where it’s marked?” Mr. Parks asked.

“That would be just fine,” Mr. Martin said.

“Three years have gone by,” Mr. Parks said, and then waited three years in order to underscore the point. “Yes.” He paused again. “The sun’s come up over a thousand times.”

Mr. Parks was playing to Maine, not New Hampshire. Were I to turn around I no doubt would have seen a man in a yellow slicker, a lobster tucked beneath his arm. Silently, I reached into the backpack hanging from my chair and felt for my copy of Doctor Zhivago. This had always been the plan: they would audition and I would read, and when we got bored Veronica and I would swap our posts so she could read. Mr. Parks was nowhere near the end of the page. The good thing about Doctor Zhivago was that the plot was sufficiently convoluted so as to require all of my brain. I didn’t much like the novel but I wanted to see what would happen to Lara. Still, by the sixth time some aspiring Stage Manager announced that the sun had come up, I realized Pasternak was no match for my circumstances and I turned my chair around.

One after the other, the Stage Managers walked out onto the proscenium and began. The awkward ways these men held their bodies, and how the paper trembled in their hands, were things no high school girl should ever see. Some of them had decent voices, but tip them off the side of a boat and they would go down like anchors. Zero buoyancy. Others were okay in their bodies, pacing around with one hand stuffed in a pocket, but they sounded out each word phonetically. The dichotomy was neck-up neck-down: Some had one and some had the other, but no one managed both and several managed neither. Put together, the Stage Managers were a car crash, a multiple-vehicle pileup, and I could not look away.

Despite all evidence, it was nearly springtime in New Hampshire. My junior year was seven weeks from its completion but I kept thinking that this was the first day of my true education. None of the books I’d read were as important as this, none of the math tests or history papers had taught me how to act, and by “act” I don’t mean on a stage, I mean in life. What I was seeing was nothing less than how to present myself in the world. Watching actors who had memorized their lines and been coached along for months was one thing, but seeing adults stumble and fail was something else entirely. The magic was in identifying where each one went wrong. Mr. Anderson, a loan officer from Liberty Bank, had brought a pipe, a prop that may have been all right to hold, but which he kept clenched between his teeth. A person didn’t have to act to know that the ability to separate one’s jaws was helpful in speaking, and yet I knew it and he didn’t. Then, in the middle of the two-minute speech, he folded the sheet of paper he was reading from, slipped it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, pulled a box of wooden matches from the patch pocket of that jacket and lit the pipe. The puffing it took to pull the fire into the tobacco, the little flame flashing up from the bowl, it was all part of his audition. Then he put the box of matches and the spent match back in his pocket, removed the page of script, unfolded it and resumed his performance while the sweet pipe smoke drifted towards the rafters and worked its way back to me.

That Mr. Martin didn’t just stand up and say forget it, I have no interest in directing Our Town, was a testament to his fortitude. Instead, he coughed and thanked Mr. Anderson for his time. Mr. Anderson, nodding gravely, departed.

Every Stage Manager came with an unintended lesson: clarity, intention, simplicity. They were teaching me. Like all my friends, I was wondering what I should do with my life. Plenty of days I thought I would be an English teacher because English was my best class and the idea of a life spent reading and making other people read appealed to me. I was forever jotting down ideas for my syllabus in the back of a spiral notebook, thinking how we’d start with David Copperfield, but no sooner had I committed myself to teaching, I wrote off to request an application for the Peace Corps. I loved books, of course I did, but how could I spend my life in a classroom knowing that wells needed to be dug and mosquito nets needed to be distributed? The Peace Corps would be the most direct route to doing something truly decent with my life. Decency, a word I used to cover any aspect of being a good person, factored heavily into my thinking about the future. Being a veterinarian was decent—we all wanted to be veterinarians at some point—but it meant taking chemistry, and chemistry made me nervous.

But why was I always reaching for six-hundred-page British novels and hard sciences and jobs that would require malaria vaccinations? Why not do something I was already good at? My friends all thought I should take over my grandmother’s alterations shop because I knew how to sew and they didn’t. Their mothers didn’t. When I turned a hem or took in a waistband, they looked at me like I was Prometheus coming down from Olympus with fire.

If you wonder where the decency is in alterations, I can tell you: my grandmother. She was both a seamstress and a fountain of human decency. When Veronica spoke about the jeans I diverted from the Goodwill bag by tapering the legs, she said, “You saved my

life!” People liked their clothes to fit, so making them fit was helpful, decent. My grandmother—who always had a yellow tape measure hanging around her neck and a pin cushion held to her wrist with a strip of elastic (the pincushion corsage I called it) taught me that.

Watching these men recite the same lines so badly while polishing their glasses with giant white handkerchiefs really made me think about my life.