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April 17, 2021

Commonwealth

 


Fiction
2016 Harper
Finished on April 10, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them. 

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

Last year I read not only one, but two novels written by Ann Patchett. Like her previous books, Commonwealth is peopled with strongly defined characters, believable dialogue and well-set scenes; all the makings for creating an unforgettable read. I enjoyed the book quite well, but the jumps across the decades, combined with the two blended families, kept me on my toes as I struggled to keep track of who's who (and their relationships to one another). I'm glad I read this in print rather than listening to the audio, as I had to flip back and forth to reacquaint myself with more than one of the children. 

Bel Canto and State of Wonder remain my favorite works of Patchett's, and yet Commonwealth is one that I would enjoy revisiting at a later date. There is so much going on in this novel and I feel as if I missed the beauty of the writing as I consciously worked to figure out what was going on within each family. Narrated from multiple points-of-view and an expansive scope, Commonwealth is a challenging, yet rewarding read and which I highly recommend, especially to those who have enjoyed family dramas such as The Children's Crusade (Ann Packer), Wish You Were Here (Stewart O'Nan), The Arrivals (Meg Mitchell More) and Unsheltered (Barbara Kingsolver). 

20 comments:

  1. I love Patchett and hope she has a new one in the works.

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    1. Diane, I hope she has a new one in the works, too. Dutch House came out in Sept. 2019, so she's due! :)

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  2. Sounds good, I need to check her books out.

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    1. Vicki, she has written some wonderful novels. A lot of people didn't care for Bel Canto, but I loved it. State of Wonder is another winner, as is Dutch House and Commonwealth. The Magician's Assistant wasn't my favorite, though.

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  3. I liked this one very much. In the end, I was left wondering how much what we think of as key events really change things. I am not sure.

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    1. Deb, she's becoming one of my favorite authors.

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  4. I've enjoyed all of Patchett's books and would have a hard time choosing a favorite!

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    1. JoAnn, I have a few left in her backlist, so I should try to make time for those in the coming months. I looked back on my review of The Magician's Assistant and see that I gave it a 7/10 rating, but I sure don't remember much about it! Bel Canto, State of Wonder, The Dutch House and Commonwealth are my favorites, probably with State of Wonder leading the pack.

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  5. Bel Canto was excellent on audio. I think it's my favorite of her works.

    Ann Patchett isn't on my radar as one of my favorite authors for some reason but I really like every one of her books that I've read so far. I need to actively seek out more, including this one. I'll be sure to look for it in print. I can easily lose track of characters too.

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    1. Jen, I'll have to give Bel Canto a try on audio. I loved that book when I read it many, many years ago. Patchett isn't on my radar, either. I happened to read three of her books within a year or so simply because we read The Dutch House for book club. That reminded me of how much I enjoyed Bel Canto. Now to catch up on some of her earlier works.

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  6. I liked The Dutch House and Bel Canto but haven't read anything else by Patchett. I'd like to get Commonwealth and State of Wonder.

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    1. Tina, if you enjoyed The Dutch House and Bel Canto, I think you'd really enjoy those other two. Patchett is becoming one of my favorite writers.

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  7. I'll put this on my list. I recently read The Dutch House and thoroughly enjoyed it (it was very different!) and years ago read State of Wonder and Bel Canto and liked them both. Now that I think about it, all of her books tell unique stories!

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    1. Laurel, it's a winner! And, yes. Her books tell very unique stories, which makes it easy to remember which is which. Some authors write books that tend to blur together with their previous books, but not Patchett.

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  8. I enjoyed this one very much. I read it on my Kindle but like The Dutch House which I also read on my Kindle, I feel the need to buy physical copies of both books just to keep on my shelf. A sign of a good read for sure.

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    1. Ti, I share that feeling about wanting to own a favorite book to place on my "keeper" shelf, if not to read again, just to remind me of its goodness and the joy it brought to me.

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  9. Although I liked State of Wonder quite a bit, I find that I like Patchett's nonfiction books best, particularly "This Is a Story of a Happy Marriage" ... which is perhaps my favorite.

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    1. Susan, I think I tried the audio of This Is a Story of a Happy Marriage and decided I wanted to read it in print rather than listening. For whatever reason (forgetfulness?), I never did. Adding it to my list...

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    2. Oh,yes... I LOVED This is the Story of a Happy Marriage on audio. That probably is my favorite Patchett book. I remember listening (to the essay about her grandmother?)and sobbing while walking the beach. Was glad to be wearing sunglasses!

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    3. JoAnn, I usually prefer to read memoirs in print vs audio, but maybe I'll try a read/listen combo. Glad to know both you and Susan loved the book!

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