A cherry orchard, three sisters and a summer romance: Tom Lake, by Ann Patchett, reviewed

Two plays guide the reader through Tom Lake, Ann Patchett’s ninth novel: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the story of ordinary lives in a small New Hampshire community in the early years of the 20th century, which, with its radically stripped-back staging, sets time and place in the context of all time and place, and enjoins its audience to ponder what is truly valuable in human life; and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, the story of the battle for an estate that throbs with conflict, violence and, ultimately, destruction. Patchett’s mind is on the twin forces of preservation and entropy: our desperate attempts to cling to the local and the familiar

I was the only Trump supporter among the olive-pickers

We bums find ourselves sought after at this time of year to lend a hand with the olive harvest. So this week I’ve been standing on a tarpaulin in a sunny field combing olives off olive branches. It’s a good year for olives. The trees are laden and the work is pleasantly monotonous. The minimal level of thought needed to accomplish the task shuts down the internal Red Army choir of negative thoughts that normally drowns out the competition, offering the mind a holiday. In the mornings we combed to the sound of birds twittering in the trees; after lunch to Fip music radio, state-financed, eclectic. On Thursday the smoky-voiced