The Dutch House

The Dutch House

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Stay at home orders should set the stage for readers to burn through those books that tend to pile up bedside tables. Bibliophiles finally have ample time to devour the literature on our list. Unfortunately, many of my therapy clients lament that reading during a global pandemic feels difficult. Concentration wanders. The news cycle lures many would be readers away from literature, directing our focus toward the coverage of the coronavirus. It is reasonable and important to remain informed. However too much news is bound to be emotionally disintegrating.

Reading for pleasure is a self-soothing and intellectually broadening activity that can help readers in quarantine move through this difficult and unsettling time. I think the trick is finding literature that is absorbing and well written. Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House is an ideal novel of the moment. The book is thoughtfully crafted and intelligent but also engaging and accessible.

The New York Times aptly describes The Dutch House as a modern day fairy tale. Danny and Maeve Conroy are siblings growing up in Elkins Park Pennsylvania who are deeply bonded through shared trauma. Their mother abandons of the family and then their father decides to marry a single mother of two who personifies every fairy tale’s classic villain. Andrea is central casting’s ideal version of a wicked stepmother. Exiled from their family home and denied access to their rightful inheritance, they have no one to turn to but each other.

Maeve’s diagnosis of type one diabetes frames the plot and hints that Patchett must have some personal knowledge of this devastating disease. There are subtle but meaningful passages throughout the book that capture the complex challenges of navigating this chronic life-threatening illness:

No one comes into the middle of geometry and tells you to get your things because you’re gong to be a starter at the next basketball game. When I went down the hall I had only one thought and it was for Maeve. I was so sick with fear it was all I could do to make myself walk. She had run out of insulin or the insulin wasn’t any good. Too much, not enough, either way it had killed her. Until the minute I never realized the extent to which I carried this fear with me everywhere, every minute of my life.

The book’s tertiary focus on type one diabetes is also timely and interesting because diabetics are considered high risk for developing coronavirus complications. Because Patchett chooses to have a character struggling to manage type one diabetes, I wish the book took steps to include how misunderstood the differences are between type one diabetes and type two diabetes. Anyone living with type one diabetes will tell you that this widespread confusion is a source of frustration and one never touched upon in the novel. Nevertheless, this engrossing book is well suited to become a friend to readers hoping to use their quarantine time to try to enjoy some worthwhile literature.

Elisabeth LaMotte

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