Dutch House (Patchett)

The Dutch House 
Anne Patchett, 2019
HarperCollins
352 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780062963673 


Summary
A powerful novel and richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go.

    "Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?" I asked my sister. We were sitting in her car, parked in front of the Dutch House in the broad daylight of early summer."

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth.

His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled, by their stepmother, from the house where they grew up. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another.

It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together.

Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are.

Filled with suspense, you may read it quickly to find out what happens, but what happens to Danny and Maeve will stay with you for a very long time.



Author Bio
Birth—December 2, 1963
Where—Los Angeles, California, USA
Raised—Nashville, Tennessee
Education—B.A., Sarah Lawrence College; M.F.A., University of Iowa
Awards—Guggenheim Fellowship; PEN/Faulkner Award; Orange Prize
Currently—lives in Nashville, Tennessee


Ann Patchett is an American author of both fiction and nonfiction. She is perhaps best known for her 2001 novel, Bel Canto, which won her the Orange Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award and brought her nationwide fame.

Patchett was born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. Her mother is the novelist Jeanne Ray. Her father, Frank Patchett, who died in 2012 and had been long divorced from her mother, served as a Los Angeles police officer for 33 years, and participated in the arrests of both Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. The story of Patchett's own family is the basis for her 2016 novel, Commonwealth, about the individual lives of a blended family spanning five decades.

Education and career
Patchett attended St. Bernard Academy, a private Catholic school for girls run by the Sisters of Mercy. Following graduation, she attended Sarah Lawrence College and took fiction writing classes with Allan Gurganus, Russell Banks, and Grace Paley. She managed to publish her first story in The Paris Review before she graduated. After college, she went on to the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa

For nine years, Patchett worked at Seventeen magazine, writing primarily non-fiction; the magazine published one of every five articles she wrote. She said that the magazine's editors could be cruel, but she eventually stopped taking criticism personally. She ended her relationship with the magazine following a dispute with one editor, exclaiming, "I’ll never darken your door again!"

In 1990-91, Patchett attended the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It was there she wrote The Patron Saint of Liars, which was published in 1992 (becoming a 1998 TV movie). It was where she also met longtime friend Elizabeth McCracken—whom Patchett refers to as her editor and the only person to read her manuscripts as she is writing.

Although Patchett's second novel Taft won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in fiction in 1994, her fourth book, Bel Canto, was her breakthrough novel. Published in 2001, it was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and won the PEN/Faulkner Award and Britain's Orange Prize.

In addition to her other novels and memoirs, Patchett has written for publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Oprah Magazine, ELLE, GQ, Gourmet, and Vogue. She is the editor of the 2006 volume of the anthology series The Best American Short Stories.

Personal
Patchett was only six when she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and she lives there still. She is particularly enamored of her beautiful pink brick home on Whitland Avenue where she has lived since 2004 with her husband and dog. When asked by the New York Times where would she go if she could travel anywhere, Patchett responded...

I've done a lot of travel writing, and people like to ask me where I would go if I could go anyplace. My answer is always the same: I would go home. I am away more than I would like, giving talks, selling books, and I never walk through my own front door without thinking: thank-you-thank-you-thank-you.... [Home is] the stable window that opens out into the imagination.

 In 2010, when she found that her hometown of Nashville no longer had a good book store, she co-founded Parnassus Books with Karen Hayes; the store opened in November 2011. In 2012, Patchett was on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She is a vegan for "both moral and health reasons."

In an interview, she once told Barnes and Noble that the book that influenced her writing more than any other was Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow.

 

I think I read it in the tenth grade. My mother was reading it. It was the first truly adult literary novel I had read outside of school, and I read it probably half a dozen times. I found Bellow's directness very moving. The book seemed so intelligent and unpretentious. I wanted to write like that book.

 Books
1992 - The Patron Saint of Liars
1994 - Taft
1997 - The Magician's Assistant
2004 - Truth and Beauty: A Friendship
2001 - Bel Canto
2007 - Run
2008 - What Now?
2011 - State of Wonder; The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life
2013 - This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
2016 - Commonwealth
2019 - The Dutch House
(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/5/2016.)



Book Reviews
(Starred review) [M]asterly…. [Patchett's] splendid novel is a thoughtful, compassionate exploration of obsession and forgiveness, what people acquire, keep, lose or give away, and what they leave behind.
Publishers Weekly


Not all of Patchett’s characters, particularly Maeve, are fully developed or believable, perhaps because of the narrator’s own limited powers of observation…. Still, this is an affecting family drama that explores the powerful tug of nostalgia and the exclusionary force of shared resentments
Library Journal


(Starred review) Patchett is at her subtle yet shining finest in this gloriously incisive, often droll, quietly suspenseful drama of family, ambition, and home.… Patchett gracefully choreographs surprising revelations and reunions as her characters struggle with the need to be one’s true self.
Booklist


(Starred review) [A] deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it.… [Patchett] proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades…. [T]his richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. What are the many and varied details of the Dutch House—rooms, stairways, architectural specifics, furniture, windows and doors, etc.? What mood or personality does each space or element possess? What is the complex, overall effect? What might Danny mean when he says,"the house was the story" or that it was "impossible"?

2. What is the nature of the relationship between Maeve and Danny? What explains the longevity and power of their support and love for one another?

3. What is Cyril Conroy like? How might specific behaviors, routines, and decisions of his have influenced Maeve and Danny? Why was he "always more comfortable with his tenants than he was the people in his office or…in his house"? What was it about buildings that he loved so much?

4. What are Fluffy’s various, evolving roles in the Dutch House? What is her overall influence on Maeve and Danny?

5. What explains why Elna Conroy abandoned her children? In what ways might such a profounddecision be justified or not? Why, as Maeve argues, are men who leave their families oftenjudged less harshly?

6. What were the various effects of Elna Conroy leaving her husband and children? Was it preferable, as Maeve argues, to have spent some years with her and then lost her or, as Danny experienced, to never have known her? What are the particular emotional challenges of each experience?

7. What might be the significance of Maeve receiving a box of matches and instruction for how to light a fire from her mother on her eighth birthday?

8. When discussing Maeve’s diabetes, Danny suggests that, "the body had all sorts of means to deal with what it couldn’t understand." What does this mean? What is the relationship between physical health and emotional stress or trauma?

9. In what ways are Sandy and Jocelyn important to the various Conroys?

10. What are Maeve’s particular strengths and abilities? What are her priorities in life? What might explain her decision to stay at her unchallenging job or not pursue a committed romantic relationship or family of her own?

11. What forces—familial, social, cultural—might explain why the two males, Cyril and Danny, are in various ways "excused…from all responsibility" about the lives and struggles of the girls and women in the house?

12. What is the source of Andrea’s power? Why is she so bent on using it against the others—especially the women—in the house? What does she covet and care about?

13. What is significant about each of the portraits in the Dutch House?

14. Why do Maeve and Danny sit secretly in a car outside of the Dutch House many times throughout the years after they are exiled from it?

15. Consider the various literary allusions throughout the novel. What is suggested, for example, by Celeste reading Adrienne Rich’s Necessities of Life when Danny first meets her on a train or by Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping?

16. What were the "original disappointments" that Celeste felt about Danny? Why did her relationship with Maeve begin so well and become so acrimonious?

17. Despite completing medical school, why is Danny drawn so powerfully to the construction ,buying, and selling of buildings? What does he mean when he says he is "at home on a building site"?

18. What does it mean the Maeve and Danny "had made a fetish out of [their] misfortune, fallen in love with it"? What explains such powerful attachment to painful experiences and relationships? Why might Danny not want "to be dislodged from [his] suffering"?

19. Danny eventually realizes that "after years of living in response to the past, [he and Maeve] had somehow become miraculously unstuck." What does this mean? How did it happen? What explains the "insatiable appetite for the past" that Maeve and Fluffy shared? How does one determine when connections to the past are healthy or restrictive?

20. Later in life, sitting outside the Dutch House, Danny realizes that "the feeling of home" he was experiencing was due not to the house but "wholly and gratefully" to his sister Maeve. What defines and determines a feeling of home? What role does a house play or not?

21. What explains the very different responses Maeve and Danny have to their mother’s return?

22. What might it mean that, when confronted with an aged and enraged Andrea, Danny thinks he "had not been born with an imagination large enough to encompass this moment"? What’s the role of imagination in times of trauma or emotional difficulty? What is its relationship to compassion and empathy? When does imagination become unhealthy illusion?

23. After reuniting, Elna tells Maeve and Danny that when she left she "knew [they] were going to be fine." In what ways did they end up fine or not?

24. Finally, Danny realizes that "the rage [he] carried for [his] mother exhaled and died. There was no place for it anymore." What does this mean? What are other ways to process such anger and emotional pain?

25. What changes and transformations are suggested by May’s buying of the Dutch House? What might it imply that Danny walks with her through the darkness to enter it?
(Questions issued by publishers.)

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