SPOILER ALERT: This blog post contains my thoughts on the book that are definitely spoilers.
The Dutch House, written by Ann Patchett and narrated by Tom Hanks, includes a main character who is diagnosed with and lives with type 1 diabetes. Here are my thoughts on the book, in general, and the author’s treatment of diabetes.
I dove into the audiobook of The Dutch House, written by Ann Patchett and narrated by Tom Hanks, because it was the monthly selection for one of the book clubs I follow.
The story is of the Conroy family and takes place beginning after World War II and continuing through several decades as the children Danny and Maeve go from being children to adults.
The Conroy were poor New Yorkers, but Cyril, the father, lucks out on a real estate deal bringing the family wealth. He buys an obscenely decadent house in the suburbs of Philadelphia, surprising his wife and young daughter.
After a series of events that would change their family forever, Danny and Maeve are cast out of the house and come full-circle back into poverty as they must fend for themselves.
The family dynamics and the decisions made affect the children and force them into a direction that they might not have gone in otherwise. More than the loss of wealth, Danny and Maeve feel the loss of their home, their parents, and the life that they envisioned for themselves.
There were many times while listening to the audiobook that I was frustrated or angry with the adults in their lives who should have been there for them, who should have made these two a priority, who should have sheltered them and protected them and helped them fulfill the lives they could have been destined for.
Tom Hanks did a wonderful job narrating the book, though, with his distinctive voice, it was sometimes difficult not to picture Danny as Tom Hanks himself.
Overall this was a wonderful book and I recommend it.
“We see the past as the people we are now.”
The Dutch House and Diabetes
(Turn away now if you don’t want one of the plot points to be spoiled!)
So, what does all of this have to do with diabetes?
Maeve is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child.
I had two immediate thoughts:
Would the author get it right?
Would a tragic diabetes death befall her?
As the parent of a child with type 1 diabetes, I wasn’t sure I could handle the heartbreak such a death would surely bring because it makes one reflect on their own child’s T1D and all of the “what if’s” that come along with it.
Without really spoiling the book, I want you to know that it’s safe to read it, and you won’t have a nervous breakdown!
At the time of her diagnosis, one of the house staff say that trauma can cause diabetes, and that’s exactly what happened to Maeve (I won’t give away what the traumatic event was!). Some studies show that trauma can, in fact, trigger the onset of diabetes. Though in my opinion, probably a person is already predisposed to T1D and the stress on the body just speeds up the onset.
(See the study in Diabetologia: “Experience of a serious life event increases the risk for childhood type 1 diabetes: the ABIS population-based prospective cohort study.”)
Listening to Danny talk about his sister’s diabetes and the concern that he had for her health, I felt that any T1D would be lucky to have a caring sibling such as Danny.
Danny says, “I could read her blood sugar like the weather. I could tell when she wasn’t listening anymore.”
He expressed his worry that “She had run out of insulin, the insulin wasn’t any good, too much, not enough. Either way, it had killed her. Until that minute, I never realized the extent to which I carried this fear with me everywhere, every minute of my life.”
That scene summed up, I am sure for each and every one of us, the reality of being the caregiver, partner, or sibling of a person living with type 1 diabetes.
One of my favorite lines from the book, which made me think of a line from an interview with Sonia Sotomayor, was, “People probably thought she was a junky in a sweater set.”
I am not sure if Ann Patchett has a personal connection to type 1 diabetes, but she aptly captured the medical condition from the perspective of a close family member.
So often, diabetes is misrepresented in pop culture, including books. Kudos to Patchett for getting it right!