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Book Club Questions for Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Book Club Questions for Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

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Book club questions for Tom Lake by Ann Patchett takes a deep dive into this quiet novel about one’s past. There will be spoilers so for more context about the book, check out my spoiler-free review first.

As I mentioned in my review, I started this book back in October but didn’t finish it until March! I had to take breaks as I just didn’t connect with the story at first. But I’m glad I picked it back up because I did end up joying it. This is the definition of a quiet, slow-burn read.

Be sure to let me know what you think about the book below!

The Synopsis

In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return to the family’s orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew.

Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart.

Book Club Questions for Tom Lake

  1. The book is set in spring of 2020. What are your thoughts about pandemic-era fiction?
  2. While the world is in chaos, the family is home together and Lara is recounting the time she had a romance with a man named Duke, who would become a famous actor. Why is now the time Lara finally told the (almost) whole story about her and Duke?
  3. The book really goes into detail about the Our Town play. Did you like learning about it or did you feel it went on too long?
  4. Why was Emily the right part for Lara? How are the two similar?
  5. Did you get the sense that Lara enjoyed acting? Or was she simply playing the part because she could relate to her?
  6. In many ways, Lara just goes with the flow. She goes into acting because she can and even sees some success (including starring in a movie and appearing on the Tonight Show). But she never seems in love with it, or really show a passion for it. It’s a bit similar with her romantic relationships in some way. Overall, did you feel that Lara held an active voice in her own life? Or she was passive and simply coasting through?
  7. What drew Lara to Duke? What was your impression of Duke overall? Was Lara in love with Duke or was it simply infuriation?
  8. We get glimpses of Lara’s relationships with her daughters. What did you think about the dynamic between Lara and daughters?
  9. Her daughter Emily didn’t feel like she fit in with the family and at one point, was convinced Duke was her real father. But as an adult, she’s done a complete turnaround and seems to be the one who will inherit the farm—the very place she hoped to escape as a child. What were your thoughts about Emily? Why is she drawn to the farm now?
  10. Duke’s brother Sebastian has a somewhat small role but Lara seemed quite fond of him and even hints at something more at play. What is your view of their relationship?
  11. Duke eventually leaves Lara behind, and Lara is at a loss for a while. Why did Lara not stick with acting?
  12. The somewhat inevitable happens, Duke becomes a famous actor but he also can’t escape his demons. When he’s in rehab, he reaches back out to Lara who comes to him immediately. But all he wants is a hook up and disregards her quick. How did this impact Lara going forward?
  13. Do you feel marrying Joe and living on the farm was the right move for Lara? Is she truly happy there?
  14. Even with all the fame and such, Duke holds a special memory of the farm. Why do you feel the farm represented such meaning for Duke?
  15. The big twist of the novel is that when Lara saw Duke at the rehab center, she got pregnant. Do you think she got an abortion or did she keep the baby? And if she kept the baby, could it actually be Emily? Would the timeline match up with that?
  16. Even though we are in Lara’s perspective the entire time, did you feel you truly got to know her? Or do you still have questions about her choices?

Additional Recommendations

Hope you enjoyed book club questions for Tom Lake! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

For another deeply rich story about a family, be sure to check out Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. Check out my book club questions here.

William Waters grew up in a house silenced by tragedy, where his parents could hardly bear to look at him, much less love him—so when he meets the spirited and ambitious Julia Padavano in his freshman year of college, it’s as if the world has lit up around him. With Julia comes her family, as she and her three sisters are inseparable: Sylvie, the family’s dreamer, is happiest with her nose in a book; Cecelia is a free-spirited artist; and Emeline patiently takes care of them all. With the Padavanos, William experiences a newfound contentment; every moment in their house is filled with loving chaos.

But then darkness from William’s past surfaces, jeopardizing not only Julia’s carefully orchestrated plans for their future, but the sisters’ unshakeable devotion to one another. The result is a catastrophic family rift that changes their lives for generations. Will the loyalty that once rooted them be strong enough to draw them back together when it matters most?

The Women by Kristin Hannah

For a book that is filled with opportunities for a well-rounded discussion, another fantastic option is The Women by Kristin Hannah. My favorite book of the year so far. Check out my book club questions here.

Women can be heroes. When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these words, it is a revelation. Raised in the sun-drenched, idyllic world of Southern California and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing. But in 1965, the world is changing, and she suddenly dares to imagine a different future for herself. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.

As green and inexperienced as the men sent to Vietnam to fight, Frankie is over-whelmed by the chaos and destruction of war. Each day is a gamble of life and death, hope and betrayal; friendships run deep and can be shattered in an instant. In war, she meets—and becomes one of—the lucky, the brave, the broken, and the lost.

But war is just the beginning for Frankie and her veteran friends. The real battle lies in coming home to a changed and divided America, to angry protesters, and to a country that wants to forget Vietnam.

Happy reading!