Finished on April 10, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
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).