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How much should a mother divulge to her daughters? Ann Patchett weighs it up

Ann Patchett.
Emily Dorio
Ann Patchett.

In the new novel Tom Lake, a mother bonds with her daughters who are home for the pandemic. But how much of her past is she expected to share?

Who is she? Ann Patchett is an author and bookstore owner, known for titles like Bel Canto, State of Wonder, and her latest release, Tom Lake.

  • Patchett has been open about her own decision to not have children, but centers the mother-daughter dynamic in this newest novel.
  • What's the big deal?

  • Tom Lake focuses on Lara, a mother of three adult daughters, and the stories from her past that she shares with them after a return to the family cherry farm in the summer of 2020.
  • As Lara divulges the details from a lost romance, the audience witnesses how much she truly chooses to share, and how much she keeps just for herself.
  • What are people saying? Patchett spoke with All Things Considered's Mary Louise Kelly to discuss some of the real life experiences that influenced her latest book, as well as her perspective on motherhood and the nature of family secrets.

    On centering a mother-daughter narrative:

    Well, I know it was true for so many of my friends that they were saying, "Oh, the pandemic. It's terrible. It's horrible. I'm so glad my kids are home."

    And even if you don't have kids, I was so glad to not be running all over the place. I was glad my husband wasn't going to work every day. And so it was very easy for me to make the leap, to imagine something good that came out of something so bad.

    Want more on storytellers? Listen to Consider This on Hollywood and the threat from artificial intelligence.

    On the interest in cherries:

    When I was on book tour for Bel Canto, my publicist told me that I had to go to a store in Petoskey, Michigan called Mclean and Eakin. I had to fly to Detroit in the morning, then fly to Traverse City on a tiny commuter plane, drive two hours to Petoskey, do an event and then do the whole thing in reverse all in one day.

    But it turns out that it was the best bookstore I'd ever been to, and I fell in love with the Norcross family. They own that bookstore. And I remember when I went back to the airport in Traverse City, Michigan, you could buy a cup full of fresh cherries. And I sat in the airport and ate cherries and thought, this is the best thing that's ever happened. I became friends with them. I went back to visit them all the time. And so suddenly, I was hanging out with the cherry crowd.

    On a key detail from Lara's love story that she chooses to withhold from everyone, including her daughters and husband:

    I don't think of that as a secret. I think of that as private.

    A secret is something that you are pointedly not telling someone, but something that's private is just yours. It just belongs to you. And something happened to Lara, and it was her own business. She tells the reader, but she doesn't tell her husband. And she doesn't tell her girls, and that's her right.

    So what now?

  • Patchett is currently touring the U.S. to promote her book, and taking along a debut novelist with her.
  • Lindsay Lynch is the buyer at Parnassus Books, Patchett's bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee. She is also the author of Do Tell, a novel set in the golden age of Hollywood.
  • "It is so hard to be a first-time novelist," Patchett added, "and you want somebody to just give you a hand."
  • Learn more:

  • Some books are made for summer. NPR staffers share their all-time favorites
  • Jamie Lee Curtis' graphic novel shows how 'We're blowing it with Mother Nature'
  • Fire devastated this NYC Chinatown bookshop — community has rushed to its aid
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.