Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in suburbia that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

As I was making the displays full of suburbia books for each Davenport library, I realized that a lot of what I read is set in this location without me even realizing it – those cozy mysteries, generational fiction, thrillers, etc that keep me company day after day. For July, I read our main title: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Well technically, I had already read this title for a previous virtual book club that happened during COVID. (Side question: do any of you re-read books? I generally only do if it’s an absolute favorite comfort read since there are so many other books out there & not enough time! Let me know in the comments.) Anyway, instead of re-reading the book, I spent time going over my review and learning more about Ann Patchett. My favorite fact about Ann is that she opened Parnassus Books, a bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2011. Visiting there is on my bucket list. Let’s get into the book!

” ‘Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?’ … ‘But we overlay the present onto the past,’ … ‘We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.’ ” – Ann Patchett, The Dutch House

Danny and Maeve Conroy’s mother left their house and never returned when the siblings were very young. Their father is not warm or caring, instead he’s taciturn and withdrawn. Luckily for Danny, his older sister Maeve steps in and becomes his champion and ally. Their bond grows as the two age, providing them with love that they didn’t receive from their father. Their bond gets even stronger when their father marries out of the blue.

Their new stepmother Andrea moves into the house with her two little girls. It quickly becomes apparent that Andrea has absolutely no interest in Danny or Maeve, despite the four children getting along. In fact, Andrea works to exclude the older two from the family, giving one of her girls Maeve’s bedroom and forcing the housekeepers, who raised Maeve and Danny, out of the way. Their father is noticably more distant, making excuses to be away more frequently.

What drew Andrea to the family is the beautiful Victorian house that Danny and Maeve’s father bought for their mother. It’s located in an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood. He purchased the house with the former owners’ family portraits and furniture still in it. He saw this house as a symbol of his own success, while their mother saw it instead as excessive and overwhelming opulence with way too many expensive furnishings. Ultimately the house is what drove her away – somewhere to donate her time to helping other people. Andrea, however, saw the house, wanting it and the status that it would give her. She married their father for the house, which eventually led to Danny and Maeve being forced to leave and being haunted by that action for years.

The Dutch House is told first person through Danny’s point-of-view with some input thrown in by Maeve. This is rare for Ann Patchett, but added a layer of mystery to the story as Danny is written as a somewhat clueless character. Readers only see what Danny wants them to see with Maeve providing more details about their upbringing.

This book is about obsessive nostalgia and real estate lust, which I found to be somewhat contradictory, but that nevertheless worked together. It’s incredibly sentimental, heart-warming, and full of themes of forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, redemption, and letting go of the past. This is a story of unconventional families, making due with what you have, and what happens when children are left to their own devices. It gave me strong fairy tale vibes with the theme of motherless children (ie. ‘Cinderella’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Little Princess’). All in all, this book was hard for me to stop reading and left me thinking about the story long after I finished. I hoped you like this pick!

In August we’re headed to Japan!