I feel a bit like I have just finished a long swim. Like I’ve been moving in a steady pace, up and down, up and down, over and over, and I just reached the end. The glide through the quiet under water world finished. I’m a little tired after the swim, but not exhausted. Mostly, it gave me a lot of time to think. That’s what I felt like with Patchett and finishing Dutch House.
Devotees will remember that many moons ago I read Commonwealth by Patchett. They will also remember I wasn’t much of a fan.
Basically all of the characters were jerks who couldn’t get over their childhood and the cliches were wild, even for cliches. But I do remember the writing was beautiful and it felt like an authentic snapshot of modern American life. So when I picked up Dutch House I made a conscious effort to read it with fresh perspective.
And I liked it.
It was pretty much the exact same skeleton; siblings who can’t ever get over their childhood. But I actually liked these siblings and it felt like they let themselves live. They were still 100% anchored to their childhood’s but they were generally able to still lead individual lives and there was some closure. Let me explain.
Danny and Maeve grow up in a huge, stunning, beautiful, glass house. It used to be owned by really rich Dutch people who died and their father bought it. It’s the only house Danny knew and after their mother leaves them to take care of poor people in India, Maeve raises him. Their father works in housing, building and a landlord, and is very emotionally distant and a jerk. Then one day, their father introduces them to a woman named Andrea. Before they know what’s happening, Andrea becomes their step mother and moves into the Dutch House with her two daughters.
SPOILERZ: Their father dies, Andrea throws Danny out and Maeve comes home after college to make sure he finishes high school. Apparently Patchett derives some pleasure from killing important family members.
Between flashbacks, shared memories, and time jumps, we follow the rest of the siblings’ lives. Schools, money, marriage, children, sickness, family reunions, sickness again. And always, the Dutch House.
It was well written, I liked Danny and I liked Maeve well enough. Danny was a bit clueless but an fascinating guide. Maeve was interesting but certainly to sharp to be the narrator. Not too sharp in the sense that she was too smart, I mean too sharp. Her personality was all pointy edges and cutting.
I think part of what made it so interesting was how meta the whole thing was. There are many comments about the sibling’s inability to move on from the sadness of their childhood and Dutch House. For literal decades, they can’t seem to stop sitting across the street, reminiscing. Using those rituals as crutches and excuses. But they don’t do anything to change their habits.
Or Danny, who marries a woman he probably shouldn’t have. And knew he probably shouldn’t have. He says several times that his wife blames the things she doesn’t like about him on Maeve and when she can’t do that any more, they get divorced. But Danny doesn’t do anything to fix it.
And that, ultimately, was my biggest complaint about the book.
If they didn’t know what was the root of their problems or didn’t know they were using the past as an excuse, it would be different. But to know, and to waste literal decades wallowing and staying in that place any way. It drives me crazy. What a waste of time. Especially because their childhood was rough, but not something that couldn’t have been overcome. Go to therapy, read a book, talk to your wife. Or I don’t know, do something! At least try! Ugh. Patchett, why??
So my biggest complaint about Commonwealth transfers to my second Patchett read. But Dutch House was much more bearable because I actually liked the characters and there was a sense of healing and closure in the last like, two chapters of the book. Better than none! We won’t talk about the fairy tale like stereotypes that were heavily played into and even mentioned in the book.
Instead read it, but be warned. If you’re a development/plot hoe like me, you might be a little frustrated.
Also, did I mention I went to a new music festival in San Diego, Wonderfront? It was super cool! The acts were amazing, the festival grounds were cool, and I got to watch Tony Hawk skate. What else could you ever want?