The Dutch House
Danny and Maeve Conroy don’t belong in their magnificent childhood home anymore. Known as the Dutch House, it’s a three-story mansion in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, built in 1922 by the wealthy Van Hoebeeks, and ultimately abandoned when the sole surviving Mrs. Van Hoebeek dies.
In 1946, Cyril Conroy buys the house with everything in it (at auction price), surprises his family, and marks the rise of his real estate empire.
How does a family adjust from having little to living in a house with housekeepers, a nanny and a ballroom on the third floor? Maeve loves it, especially when she hides in her enclosed window seat. Danny is born into it, but their mother, Elna’s unhappiness is a cloud over the family.
When Elna can no longer bear it, she leaves for India to help the needy and Cyril marries Andrea Smith, a domineering younger woman with two small daughters and an eye toward moving up in the world. Four years later, Cyril is dead and Andrea wants nothing to do with Danny and Maeve. Forced out, Maeve settles into her role of protective older sister and charts Danny’s course, with their limited funds.
For nearly thirty years, Danny and Maeve visit the house regularly, from across the street, in an effort to sort through their feelings about a mother who left them, a father who was hard to know, and of hatred for Andrea, who continues to live in the house. Their lives change, but they continue this “tradition” until one day, Maeve says, “I’m done with Andrea. I’m making a pledge to you right here. I’m done with this house. I’m not going back anymore.” Later, Danny realizes, “Habit is a funny thing. You might think you understand it, but you can never exactly see what it looks like when you’re doing it.”
The story is narrated by Danny, but it’s just as much about Maeve and her devotion to him and the house itself, which becomes its own character, a feature I always love. Their biggest struggle is with their mother’s choice to serve others in need, but not her own family. Does Elna help others because they need it more? Because she knows that her children will be okay without her? In a story that incorporates all the tough emotions, confronting the past and facing an uncertain future will become the siblings’ biggest tasks.
Cyril continues to have an impact on his children, even after he’s gone. Maeve and especially Danny come to understand and relate to a man who was often closed to his children. Their memories offer a satisfying glimpse into a father who cared more than he let on.
I loved this book. This is my fourth Ann Patchett book, so that makes me on my way to becoming a huge fan. I should note that I’m giving this one 4.5 stars only because I thought the finish was a little too neat, but I still highly recommend it.
For more books by Ann Patchett, check out the links below:
Commonwealth – 5 stars from Book Club Mom
The Magician’s Assistant
The Patron Saint of Liars
State of Wonder – 4 stars from Book Club Mom
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Truth and Beauty
And for more about Ann Patchett and The Dutch House’s beautiful cover, visit her bookstore blog, Musings, part of Parnassas Books in Nashville, TN.
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