October 2019

The Dutch House

By Ann Patchett
Review by
The Dutch House confirms what we’ve always known: Ann Patchett doesn’t write a bad book.
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The Dutch House confirms what we’ve always known: Ann Patchett doesn’t write a bad book. Though the settings may differ (Bel Canto took place in South America, Commonwealth in Southern California and elsewhere), each of Patchett’s books tells a compelling, vivid and imaginative story while offering a deep meditation on human nature.

The titular mansion is located in the Elkins Park section of Philadelphia. It was once owned by the VanHoebeeks, whose imposing portraits are still hanging on the walls when an aspiring real estate developer buys it after World War II. He brings with him his two children—Danny, 3, and Maeve, 7—and his wife, Elna. The house, which has fallen into disrepair, comes complete with furniture and a servant, Fluffy. Elna is horrified by the extravagance of the property and her husband’s wealth, which he’d been keeping a secret. She starts to disappear, first sporadically, then permanently.

Left with their emotionally detached father, the children find that things can only get worse. In true fairy-tale fashion, a wicked stepmother and her own kids move in. Danny (the narrator) and Maeve are displaced from their home when their father suddenly dies and leaves them both almost penniless. An unshakable bond forms between the brother and sister as they survive and strive, pining for their lost home and enraged by the woman who took it from them.

Along the way, Patchett’s knack for aging her characters over many decades serves the story well. The Dutch House is a vast, almost preternatural property, and the characters who have, at one point or another, inhabited it are at the heart of this absorbing tale. It’s fitting and inevitable that the home eventually beckons them back.

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The Dutch House

The Dutch House

By Ann Patchett
ISBN 9780062963673

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