Fall brings fires to light and books to read

Today has been the most beautiful fall day. Orange, yellow and green leaves radiant with sunshine…blue sky…fields stretching out into the distance, dotted here and there with rolled up bales of hay…the occasional cow…a little chill in the air; sweater (not quite jacket) weather. I just went for a stroll down the road and collected a handful of leaves to send to my oldest son, who has just relocated to a California beach town…and now here I am, thinking about books I have read recently.

Of course, my mind draws a total blank.

Why, I wonder, does my mind always stall when I am asked what I have been reading lately? I am happy to say I can usually recall with ease the book I am currently reading, but it often takes an act of real concentration to pull up titles of books I have read before that. Maybe it’s because the act of reading stimulates a very different part of my brain than my day-to-day activities, plans and thoughts, and thus it takes a little effort to shift tracks and call up or jumpstart the part of my world and mind that has to do with reading. I really don’t know. I will have to consult a neurologist or expert on the brain. I do play tennis with the wife of a brain surgeon… But that is for another day.

Let’s talk about The Dutch House, for my consciousness has just coughed up this recently read gem. Many of you have read Ann Patchett in the past. Remember Bel Canto? About the fancy birthday party in South America given in honor of a powerful Japanese businessperson, at which the renowned opera singer Roxane Coss is singing, and all is hunky-dory and wonderful and luxurious and lovely until a bunch of terrorists interrupt the festivities and take the entire party hostage? (It’s been awhile since I read it; I think I may read it again.) Anyway, The Dutch House is Patchett’s newest, and I just loved it. It opens on the day Andrea (and if you want to know who Andrea is, you have to read the book) is brought to the Dutch House, and Sandy, the housekeeper, comes into the room the narrator shares with his sister and tells them to come downstairs.

“Is it a work friend?” Maeve asked. She was older and so had a more complex understanding of friendship.

Sandy considered the question. “I’d say not. Where’s your brother?”
“Window seat,” Maeve said. Sandy had to pull the draperies back to find me. “Why do you have to close the drapes?”

I was reading.

“Privacy,” I said, though at eight I had no notion of privacy. I liked the word, and I liked the boxed-in feel the draperies gave when they were closed.

This book is mysterious, unusual, intriguing. The main characters, Danny and Maeve, are children when we first encounter them, but as the pages of the novel turn, they mature, eventually into young adults who are most comfortable, despite everything, when they are together. And though their lives follow very different trajectories, we often find them together, like a song’s refrain, smoking cigarettes in a car parked outside of the Dutch house, where they grew up but from which they are ultimately exiled. The house itself is a constant centerpiece in the novel—brilliant, eccentric and not a little bizarre.

The Dutch House, as it came to be known … referred not to the house’s architecture but to its inhabitants. The Dutch House was the place where those Dutch people with the unpronounceable name lived. Seen from certain vantage points of distance, it appeared to float several inches above the hill it sat on. The panes of glass that surrounded the glass front doors were as big as storefront windows and held in place by wrought-iron vines. The windows both took in the sun and reflected it back across the wide lawn. Maybe it was neoclassical, though with a simplicity in the lines that came closer to Mediterranean or French, and while it was not Dutch, the blue delft mantels in the drawing room, library, and master bedroom were said to have been pried out of a castle in Utrecht and sold to the VanHoebeeks to pay a prince’s gambling debts. The house, complete with mantels, had been finished in 1922.

“They had seven good years before the bankers started jumping out of windows,” Maeve said, giving our predecessors their place in history.

A crazy good book. I loved the characters, the writing and the surprising ways the characters’ lives meander and connect, reconnect and in some cases dissolve. Highly recommend.

Another book I have read recently and would also recommend to anyone looking for something good is Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb. Selected (I just noticed) as The Oprah Magazine’s Best Nonfiction Book of 2019, this book is also a winner in its own right. The book is subtitled “A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed,” which gives you some idea what it’s about. But I have to say nothing could have prepared me for the experience of delving into this (I assume fictional) memoir.

The narrator is Lori, a Los Angeles therapist who writes of her clients’ lives and struggles. We have a tough, self-absorbed Hollywood producer, mystified by all the incompetents, idiots and that pepper his life. We have a young woman battling a terminal illness. We have an older woman who is ready to throw in the towel if something good doesn’t happen to her quick. And then we have the narrator herself, whose life suddenly becomes unmanageable due to a change in relationship status, who decides to seek out therapy for herself. Enter Wendell, khaki- and cardigan-clad, balding and lanky, kind of a dweeb. And now our therapist has a therapist. And the book, kind of snappy and funny up to this point, takes on a new depth and complexity. I really, really liked this book and have passed it on to my good friend, a therapist. She really likes it too but says it hits a bit close to home. Which I suppose is probably a good sign.

I have more books to recommend, but have exceeded the allotted word count and therefore must bid you adieu. Enjoy the leaves and the sunshine and this incredible time of year. Don’t be too sad about winter coming. There are fires to light and books to read and summer will be back again. Be well, and happy reading!