Tom Lake

Ann Patchett

Tom Lake
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
United Kingdom
30 April 2024

Tom Lake

Ann Patchett

This is a story about Peter Duke who went on to be a famous actor.
This is a story about falling in love with Peter Duke who wasn't famous at all.
It's about falling so wildly in love with him the way one will at twenty-four that it felt like jumping off a roof at midnight.
There was no way to foresee the mess it would come to in the end.

It's spring and Lara's three grown daughters have returned to the family orchard. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the one story they've always longed to hear of the film star with whom she shared a stage, and a romance, years before.

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


As cherry harvest season begins in the warm Michigan springtime, Lara cannot believe her good fortune in the midst of the pandemic: all three of her grown-up daughters are back at home. There is Emily, poised to take over the family farm, and conveniently in love with Benny from the farm next door. Maisie, studying to be a vet, is now wrist-deep in the practical experience that only farming life will bring. Nell, the youngest, is struggling the most, her desperation to become an actor hindered by the inability to leave the house. Only one thing can occupy them as they pick sweet cherries in the relentless heat: the story they have always wanted their mother to tell them, the one about the summer she spent with Oscar-winning actor Peter Duke. Duke, the man of their favourite childhood movies, of Emily’s teenage obsession, the source of their endless fascination. And under the branches of those cherry trees, their mother tells them the story of Tom Lake.

Lara’s split-second decision to try out for a local play leads to a streak of good luck that sees her spending the summer season in the theatre town of Tom Lake, performing opposite a fresh-faced, unbelievably charismatic Duke. As the harvest moves on in the present, so too does the relentless past: Lara’s connections with understudy and dancer Pallas, Duke’s brother Sebastian, and the actors and workers that filter through these simmering weeks.

Ann Patchett is a comfort in every book she writes, her soft voice and gentle distance making the raw and uncompromising view into desire and love and hope feel even more sharp when it pierces through the page. Lara’s children misremember parts of her story; others, they will never hear. But for readers, you will be there, hooked on Patchett’s every sentence, a cherry bucket around your neck waiting for all the sweet fruit she will hand you.

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