“The painful things you were certain you’d never be able to let go? Now you’re not entirely sure when they happened, while the thrilling parts, the heart-stopping joys, splintered and scattered and became something else."
It's the spring of 2020 and the pandemic has shut down everyone's lives. Lara and Joe's three twenty-something daughters, Emily, Maisie and Nell, have come back to the family cherry farm for the harvest. To help pass the time as they pick cherries, they ask Lara to tell the full story of her romance with a famous actor named Peter Duke, who has recently died in an accident. Lara had been with Duke at age 24 while playing the lead in a summer stock production of Our Town at a theater company called Tom Lake, in Michigan.
The story meanders between the telling of young Lara's and Duke's romance and the present day family events at the farm. I enjoyed getting to know the daughters: Emily, who will inherit and run the farm alongside her local farmer fiancé Benny, Maisie, who is going to veterinarian school and is called upon to doctor the local farm animals, and Nell, who longs to become an actress, and understands and can anticipate the inner-workings of the actor's life before Lara recounts them. Lara says:
“I look at my girls, my brilliant young women. I want them to think I was better than I was, and I want to tell them the truth in case the truth will be useful. Those two desires do not neatly coexist, but this is where we are in the story.”
Lara and Joe are a happy farming couple and Lara doesn't regret giving up acting. She hesitatingly tells her story, revealing to the reader but concealing from her daughters some of the more disquieting details.
In spite of author Ann Patchett's exceptional writing talent and Meryl Streep's extraordinary narration capabilities, it took me quite a while to get into this book. In fact I put it down for a few weeks, then restarted it in October. It wasn't until the final third of the book that I began to love the story and its characters.
Perhaps if I was familiar with the play Our Town which is an important aspect of the story, or if I was more attuned to the acting world I would have been more engaged with it, earlier on. (BTW, I suggest you read a synopsis of Our Town before reading Tom Lake, if you don't know it.) Most people I know loved this Reese's Book Club pick, and if it sounds interesting to you I recommend listening to the audiobook, as it's a rare treat to be told a story by Meryl Streep!
Hardcover 320 pages, Audiobook 11 hours, 22 minutes