Audiobook of the Week: Meryl Streep Would Like to Tell You a Story

Deciding what audiobook to listen to requires its own special calculus, related to but distinct from the factors we consider when picking a book off a shelf. From the Book Review’s own endless listening, we will select and review a different title each week, from a range of genres, to help you decide. See you next Friday.

TOM LAKE, by Ann Patchett. Read by Meryl Streep.

Meryl Streep, who has lent her voice to audiobook renditions of Nora Ephron’s “Heartburn” and E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” is ideal for narrating “Tom Lake,” Ann Patchett’s sentimental new novel about a Midwestern family. Among her many laurels, the three-time Academy Award-winning actress is often described as the consummate children’s storyteller. And the plot of “Tom Lake” is organized around one woman who does just that: She tells her children an extended story.

The novel is set during the pandemic, when Lara Nelson finds her three daughters unexpectedly back home on their Michigan orchard. But the drama unfolds largely in retrospect, following Lara’s memories of the summer she dated her co-star (the future celebrity Peter Duke) while putting on a play of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” at the eponymous Tom Lake.

Patchett’s chapters weave between Lara’s flashbacks and her present, where her three daughters are increasingly riveted by their mother’s earlier life. Streep delivers with her signature whimsy, her cadence lilting from wide-eyed innocence to winking wisdom, blurring the nostalgia for small-town Americana with dashes of big-city dreams.

And while Lara withholds certain scandalous details from her prying daughters, the listener gets the full, unedited version. The result is not only meta-textual but — thanks to Streep’s inimitable delivery — meta-theatrical as well.

‘Tom Lake’

Jane Hu is a critic whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Bookforum and elsewhere.

TOM LAKE | By Ann Patchett | Read by Meryl Streep | HarperAudio | 11 hours, 22 minutes

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