By Ann Patchett. An engrossing saga spanning five decades that focuses on a brother and sister affected by devastating family matters.
Maeve Conroy is a math genius, and her younger brother Danny is our engaging narrator. Their father Cyril, a man of very few words, has established a successful real estate business in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and in whose footsteps Danny wishes to follow.
At the end of World War II, their father buys an impressive hilltop mansion nicknamed the Dutch House. The former owners were the VanHoebeeks who spared no expense in designing and decorating the home, including a front entrance made almost entirely of glass. The house is an integral part of the story.
Not long after the Conroys move into the Dutch House, their mother Elna, who hates the excesses of the house, deserts the family to work with the poor in India. Maeve and Danny are devastated and cling even closer to each other, especially after Maeve develops diabetes. After divorcing their mother, Cyril, their father, remarries Andrea, who has two daughters of her own.
Although an astute businessman, Cyril seems powerless against Andrea’s whims and actions. She makes life miserable for Maeve, Danny, and the faithful household help.
Maeve and Danny’s world collapses when their father suddenly dies. Andrea takes over his real estate business and she expels Maeve and Danny from the Dutch House. They are thrown into virtual poverty. How they cope with this turn of events and continue to live their lives is the crux of the story.
There are comments about the premise of Andrea’s actions that deprive Maeve and Danny of their inheritance. They make the point that the probate court system takes charge of assets when dependent children are involved when someone dies intestate. Also, the book does propel the reader back and forth in time. Some readers had difficulty with this aspect of the book.
“The Dutch House” is Ann Patchett’s eighth novel and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. There is no question that Patchett tells a good story, and we root for Maeve and Danny as the years go by. However, we all wish we could visit the Dutch House and luxuriate in its magnificence.