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 ... This generous writer hits the mark again with her ninth novel ... Knowing Patchett’s personal history with motherhood makes the fullness of the maternal feelings she imagines for Lara Kenison particularly poignant.
A gorgeously told and quietly devastating story of family, love, and identity. The book is unpretentious in its erudition, yet filled with allusions and galvanized by a passion for literature and theater ... Chekhovian atmosphere and elements leave their imprint on every page of Patchett’s novel ... Throughout Tom Lake, art and life intersect, contradict, and implicate each other, both conceptually and textually.
With Tom Lake, she treats us — and perhaps herself — to a vision of a family beautifully, bucolically simple: nuclear, in its pre-bomb meaning ... Isn’t a prudish novel — the flashbacks are to the 1980s, when parents hovered a lot less — but it is a resolutely folksy, cozy one ... A quiet and reassuring book, not a rabble-rouser.
Strangely peaceable ... I should say also that at least in the beginning, I found the constant interruptions to the story of Duke (the mythology of Duke!) caused by the comings and goings at the Nelson’s cherry orchard very frustrating ... But such frustrations do not last. The reader comes to understand how integral they are to Patchett’s purpose, which has to do in part with the nature of storytelling. She knows exactly what she’s doing, just how much to say or withhold.
Radiant ... Lara spins a meandering, leisurely story about her nascent acting career and her passage into adulthood ... The result is a master class in narrative—and parental!—control. Ms. Patchett glides easily between past and present, manipulating the rate and timing of the release of key information for maximum effect ... She demonstrates that happy, cohesive families can be just as interesting as unhappy, fractured ones.
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 ... The ingredients have been assembled for a wistful meditation on mothers and daughters learning to handle the seasons of their lives ... But the novel’s alchemical transformation of pain into peace feels, at times, overstated ... As Tom Lake goes on, the determined positivity begins to feel slightly menacing, or at least constrictive ... Even as Patchett validates Lara’s performance of contentment, she appears to know that behind the artifice lies a more complicated truth.
With these back-and-forth vignettes that take place in Lara’s past and present and engage the reader’s attention in equal turns, Tom Lake is a master class in the art of seamless, measured storytelling ... But what truly makes Tom Lake extraordinary — and beautiful and bittersweet and breathtakingly heartbreaking (oh, the ending!) — is Patchett’s full-bodied treatment of Lara as her thoughts twitch, teeter and evolve over time ... a book to be savored — the once-in-a-blue-moon type.
She’s at her best on the spikiest topics ... This is not a writer who fears a challenge ... Tom Lake is very readable and sweet, but by midway through I was longing for something, anything tart ... It ...seems to almost wilfully ignore the darker side of life. You’ll happily while away an afternoon with it, if you like your fiction as sticky-sweet as cherry pie.
Possibly the most upbeat pandemic novel to come from any major author so far ... Lara’s bittersweet memories of youth can be less compelling than the modern sections ... The weaving together of timelines is skilful, though, and thematically interesting too, because this is also a novel about storytelling ... 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
Patchett has displayed a rare ability to conjure complex human dynamics on the page. This, with a tone that evokes sun-dappled warmth and folksy wisdom, have helped to make her one of the most beloved authors of her generation ... Patchett doesn’t allow trauma to be the trump card. Instead, she forces the reader to fill in the blanks — to enter into the act of creation with her ... A beautiful, stirring book that sneaks up on you and makes a deep impression.
Patchett...glides so effortlessly between time frames that we're barely aware Tom Lake tells two very different stories. One is a coming-of-age tale, in which Lara learns about love and herself ... a warm, funny book about kind people who do the best they can. It's a joy to spend a few hours with these people, which is where that never-wanted-it-to-end trope comes into play
Tom Lake is Patchett at her best ... Many (most?) novelists delve into familial frictions and twisted roads to maturity, but Patchett’s depictions of close relationships open up into sprawling murals, posing questions about the salience of art and intimacy in our troubled age. She counterposes Lara’s secret history with the stresses of quarantine ... Across her oeuvre Patchett has proven herself a generous, meticulous mentor, and Tom Lake is one of this year’s triumphs.
Here’s the thing about Ann Patchett. Her stories are compelling and her prose is perfection. But her novels are decidedly unshowy; her personal life not nearly so lurid as some of the other contenders for the title of Great American Novelist. It’s not that she doesn’t get the recognition she deserves, rather, that there is clearly an issue with the volume at which such recognition is broadcast, perhaps because her craft is so subtle, perhaps because she is a woman; most likely both ... Her writing appears so effortless that it takes a particular exertion to step back and notice just how good she is; the brilliance of her storytelling, the way a sentence comes seemingly from nowhere to knock you to your knees. Read this book to feel young. Read it to feel old. Read, most of all, to feel blazingly and tenderly and miraculously alive.
As all this should make clear, we’re in nostalgic summer romance territory, and Tom Lake delivers the expected emotional pay-off ... Tom Lake shares many of the qualities of Wilder’s play. Patchett writes beautifully measured prose, even if it sometimes makes her narrator come across as over-controlled, maybe even a little controlling ... Occasionally the action feels thematically convenient rather than real...The same is true of some of the characterization...But that’s also part of Patchett’s point: that there’s something ultra-vivid about the talents of actors, and it makes them not quite real.
Ann Patchett once again proves herself a master of the family narrative ... The two timelines converge beautifully, and the revelations, when they come, feel both surprising and inevitable ... a gorgeously layered novel, a meditation on love, family and the choices we make.
...yet again another case in point of this storyteller’s extraordinary literary prowess. She takes the clear premise of a modern-day mother telling her grown daughters a story that took place in her youth, and alternates between a perfectly balanced first-person-present point of view and a past tense coming of age story ... The structure of Tom Lake is wonderfully measured as Patchett weaves the fine details of dual timelines together. Patchett writes expertly of behind-the-scenes theatrical nuance, and equally wields the minute mechanics of a daily fruit farm’s seasonal labor. Patchett’s trademark, accessible language drives the modern times narrative, and the backstory is sensitive, engaging, and insightful.
Patchett writes precisely, crafting a real, true world, where the buildings are more than just cardboard stage sets ... Far from a pandemic novel, Tom Lake just happens to be set during 2020 ... Our Town, a play about loss and the inability to appreciate life as it happens, is the perfect foil for Patchett’s story ... In so many ways, 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.
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.
Masterly ... As Patchett’s slow-burn narrative gathers dramatic steam, she blends past and present with dexterity and aplomb, as the daughters come to learn more of the truth about Lara’s Duke stories, causing them to reshape their understanding of their mother. Patchett is at the top of her game.