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Review: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Review: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett is a quiet and introspective novel about how one’s past impacts the present and future.

I saw the cover of Tom Lake everywhere last summer. The book is a huge success—a Reese Book Club Pick and a NY Times Bestseller. So I know I had to read it. But wow, it took me a while.

I first started Tom Lake last October but I had to take breaks. While I thought the writing was excellent, I had a hard time getting invested into the story, which I detail more below. I finally picked it back up this March and I ended up liking it. Truly a slow-burn read, indeed.

What’s the Story About

The story is set in spring of 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. The protagonist, Lara, is sheltering in place with her husband and three adult daughters at the family’s farm in Northern Michigan.

While the world is in chaos, the farm is quiet and peaceful. And to serve as a distraction, Lara’s daughters ask their mother about the summer where she had a romance with a man who would eventually become a famous movie star.

Lara tells the story about her past, and with it, interlines with the present. And eventually, everyone is forced to reconsider everything they thought they knew.

Four Years Ago

It’s been four years since the pandemic first began and so much has changed since then—thankfully life has gotten back to normal. But I think all of us probably hold some type of trauma remembering how scary it was those first few months when we didn’t know anything about this new disease. And I remember thinking even then that I was not excited for pandemic era fiction.

I think some stories have handled it better than others. This is probably the best take I’ve read on it. Yes, it’s during a pandemic and the only reason all three daughters are at the farm is a result of it, but it also takes the reader on such a different journey that the pandemic didn’t suck up all the energy of this book.

I think many of us were probably quite introspective at that time and thought about the past. Although for me, I was pregnant with my son Theo (who is now three) so I was thinking about the future and still held on to hope that things would be better, which they are now. Thankfully!

Lara’s Journey

So where did I struggle at first? Well, to be honest, I was not interested in the play. I just wasn’t. I thought it took a long time to get to the ‘good’ parts—when Lara meets Duke. I understand why the author wanted to lay the groundwork but it took a little too long, in my opinion.

Also, I felt, even though we are in Lara’s perspective the entire time, I’m not quite sure if we ever got to know who she really is—she felt like a passive character in a story that is all her own. That quite possibly might be the point and that in the end, she’s completely satisfied with life at the farm. Maybe we shouldn’t question it when she says she’s content.

But this is why this makes for a good book club book—there’s so much to discuss and debate.


There are aspects I liked—talking about the past with her daughters and also thinking about the present and future. At the same time, I didn’t care for the actual play that much. And I wish Lara was more active in her own story, but it is what it is. Overall, I think this is a good read for book clubs and I see why it was so popular.

For book clubs, check out my questions here.