This is my first encounter with Patchett and I am mesmerized by the way she draws out the complexities of her characters.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is the unraveling of a family brought about by a house. Maeve and Danny who depended on this house with every thread of their being find themselves out of the house after Andrea, their stepmother decides that they are no longer her responsibility. With the recent demise of their father and a mother who ran away to India so she could ‘help people’ and also because she wanted to put some distance between herself and the house that suffocated her, these kids are left to fend for themselves.
The Dutch House, with all its inherent glory, meant different things for the people in this family. While it was ‘home’ for young Danny and Maeve, it was more of a status symbol for Cyril, a real estate developer. As Andrea came along, she prioritized financial security for herself and her family grabbing the first thing she could lay her hands on- the house.
As the mystery around the house continues, we get to see the mosiac relationship between siblings. Maeve has always been the responsible, mature and understanding one. She raises Danny like her own child and even sends him to medical school, in order to give him a better life (and to spite her stepmother). As the years pass by, Danny reciprocates this love but in a more fierce manner.
Patchett writes about this family (including the help) passionately. Danny’s stubbornness, his way of handling relationships came from a place of suffering and misfortunes, whereas Maeve, always the accommodating one stays put like a rock even in pain and illness. The story peels off in layers, each layer more intricate than the other. While the pace might bother you a little, I would advise you to stay determined. Because it will be extremely rewarding.
Blurb (as on Goodreads):
At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.
The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.
Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.
*Thank you Bloomsbury India for a copy of the book. All opinions are my own*