Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

This must be the most gentle pandemic novel I have read so far, even more gentle than Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout. In Tom Lake a farming family are contained on their cherry farm, picking cherries and worrying about whether they will get them all in without the help of the families that would normally come and help. Lara and Joe, the parents, and their three girls – Maisie, Nell and Emily – are looking for something to while away the long hours that they are working and so Lara tells the story of how she dated the most famous actor (before he was famous) and what happened to them. It is obviously a story that has been told many times previously but now that the girls are older, they want more from the story and have misremembered parts which need to be set straight. We as the reader also hear parts of the story that the family are not told.

The difference between love experienced by Lara when she was younger and that which she experiences now with her daughters and husband is captured well. They are a family, or Lara is, that choose to focus on the ‘good’ and are content with their lot as it stands at present. Lara knows that the pandemic has brought her time with her grown up family which she guiltily enjoys all the while knowing that they would rather be off living their lives.

The book is a wonderful example of storytelling – how to keep your audience engaged, how stories go round and round and when to share the key moments by both Lara and Patchett. Patchett moves smoothly through the first person in the present and the past tense of her earlier life so that you are sometimes dragged into the present and sometimes just end up there, framing the coming-of-age story.

. . . this is where we are in the story.


Despite the fact that the family are working very hard, there is a bucolic feeling to the orchard as a setting, even though it is demanding of their time and effort. In it they pick cherries but also lie around on blankets, eat picnics and tell a story. This is not the claustraphobic pandemic novel we have experienced lately. As Lara says

The past need not be so all-encompassing that it renders us incapable of making egg salad.


I see that Meryl Streep is going to narrate the audiobook. In my head I had Barbara Kingsolver narrating the story – not sure why – although she does live on a farm and grow her own food.

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