It is a dysfunctional family story highlighting two flawed maternal figures and an imposing house. The birth mother didn’t like the house, thought it was a symbol of what was wrong with the world, and ran away to serve the poor, abandoning the children, while the step-mother craved all the house represented and grabbed at it so hard she resembles the evil step-mothers from brooding fairy tales. Also examined is the convoluted idea of inheritance.
It was hard to watch children caught in the middle of all that, but those are the main characters here. There are five decades spanned in this book, as the kids move from tragedy to bitterness, then to acceptance, and finally to forgiveness. Their relationship, and how differently they responded to what happened to them, is the core of the story. This author has a gift for writing characterizations, and in The Dutch House it was interesting to see how a house itself could relate like a character as well.
As expected, the writing is pitch perfect for the story. A son, Danny, is the narrating voice, and the audio version I listened to was read by Tom Hanks, which emphatically added to the story in a positive way. If you are going to read this melancholy novel, I suggest listening to it on audio instead. I give it 4 stars.