The Dutch House: or, Swimming to the Surface

There are many different ways to read this book.

It’s a fairy tale; Hansel and Gretel, evil stepmother, orphans and hidden treasure and a big, formidable house.

It’s a story about family, found and made. The bonds that can give us strength or leave us bereft.

It’s a warning.

That sounds a little abrupt, maybe. But there was something about this story that resonated deeply with me. That cut quick to the core of who I am. That blasted red sirens in my face the deeper into the book I went.

The past is the past, the book blared to me. Let it stay there, or suffer.

Follow the Bubbles

That’s what they tell you to do, when you’re drowning. When you don’t know which way is up.

It took the characters in this book a very, very long time to break the water’s surface.

Danny and Maeve Conroy: siblings, orphans. They don’t need to follow a trail of bread crumbs to reach the witch’s house; they know where it is.

They’re obsessed with it.

They park outside for hours at a time, watching the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of the titular house through the branches of the trees that line the property.

Their property.

Or, well, it had been. But when their father died, he’d left everything in the name of his young wife. The evil stepmother. The witch. She hadn’t stuffed the children and cooked them in the oven for supper, but she’d done just as bad.

She’d kicked them out.

Gasping for Air

The rest of the book is a study in stagnation.

What happens when you can’t let go? When your tinseled past blinds you to your true present?

Ann Patchett’s writing style isn’t bogged down with the torturous angst you can imagine these characters feel. Instead, it’s straightforward. Bright, even. No-nonsense. It’s true talent, then, that allows the reader to feel a slight undercurrent of panic on behalf of Danny and Maeve.

I wanted to grab them by their shoulders. Scream at them.

Warn them, as the book was warning me.

Our lives are slivers.

If you spend all your time looking back, you’ll cut the sliver in half.

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