If you’re a fan of author Ann Patchett and you happen to live in Michigan, you’ll enjoy the backdrop in “Tom Lake,” Patchett’s newest novel that is currently #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. It’s 1980-something, and young Lara is riding high as an aspiring actress in L.A. whose adventure leads her to the leading role of Emily in the play, “Our Town,” being presented in a summer stock theatre on Tom Lake, a small vacation resort located just a short drive from Traverse City. Lara quickly falls for her leading man, who we later learn went on to become a huge Hollywood star.
“Tom Lake” bounces back and forth as the now mature Lara, currently living in Traverse City on the grounds of a cherry orchard, tells her story to her three daughters who are grappling with their own lives. While the modern-day storytelling gives a glimpse into what became of Lara and her friends from that summer long ago, the true story in this novel takes place at Tom Lake.
Readers beware: “Tom Lake” is a love letter to the 1938 three-act play, “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder, and knowing the story of Emily in “Our Town” is almost mandatory, for Patchett delights in drawing parallels between the two. If you’ve never read or seen “Our Town,” you can watch the 2003 Broadway production starring Paul Newman on YouTube at https://rb.gy/aehkl.
“Tom Lake” is a slow build, and like “Our Town,” it’s all about the Third Act.