Maeve and Danny Conroy sit in her car across the street from their childhood home. They smoke endless cigarettes as they reminisce, keeping their resentment of their stepmother alive and smoldering. Their father had bought the huge, glass-fronted house out of foreclosure after the original Dutch owners were gone. He had hoped that their mother would be thrilled with this surprise. She was not. She was so sickened by the idea of wealth and privilege that she left her two children with the servants, and a few years later Andrea showed up with her two daughters. Cyril Conroy was so busy with what had become his real estate empire that, in his kids’ opinion, he married her because it was easier than making her go away. Whether or not Andrea loved Cyril is debatable, but she certainly loved the Dutch House.
Patchett tells this tale in Danny’s voice. When their mother leaves, Maeve is eleven and Danny is four, so Maeve becomes all things in Danny’s world: mother, sister, friend. Maeve’s sudden sickness is diagnosed as juvenile diabetes in a day when syringes were boiled and insulin dosages were sketchy. Although their servants were kind, they could easily be dismissed, and so Danny stood on a brittle foundation every day of his young life: all of his caretakers could disappear in a blink. Central to his existence was their absurdly glorious home. The Dutch House was their shelter, their joy, and then later, their idol.
The Dutch House is the story of a brother and sister’s love that survives the betrayal of their parents, their divergent paths as adults, and the complications of other relationships. It is a story of revenge and a wisdom that takes a lifetime to arrive. Maeve and Danny are so different, and they often disagree with one another’s choices, but they allow one another to stretch the bonds to follow separate destinies. They are pulled back together by the house and their anger toward the woman inside.
Ann Patchett’s writing is superb, as always, and since I listened to the audiobook, Danny will always have Tom Hanks’ friendly voice. As a matter of fact, if you are able to listen to the book, it is a worthwhile experience. I am a character-driven reader, so living with the injustice of Danny’s life was emotional and engrossing. Maeve was a more difficult character, but the reader comes to realize that her chosen solitude allows her to nurse a gaping wound. The ending, in my opinion, is perfect, and I so, so want to live in the Dutch House.
Very highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I listened to a downloadable audiobook of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.