Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper
From the publisher:
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.
Commonwealth was the first book I read in 2017, and what a fantastic choice it was. Ann Patchett is one of those authors for me who can do no wrong, and this novel was no different from the others I’ve experienced. What she is able to do with character development and intricate dynamics between characters is something I’ve seen very few authors do with as much brilliance as she does. Getting to know these characters, understanding their hopes, fears, the relationships between each of them, was such an incredible ride and so fun to read.
Something I absolutely loved about this novel is that Patchett tells the story in a non-linear fashion. The first chapter sets the whole thing up – that kiss between the two major players in the story that causes the end of two marriages and the joining of these two families in the marriage between these two adults – but each chapter for the rest of the novel takes place in some different time and place and features different characters. This format was incredibly interesting to me, as it kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to fill in the gaps between what Patchett has shared with the reader and what the characters have already experienced and know about their lives, but it also was such a cool literary device and I wish more books were written this way.
When I look at each individual character, I’m impressed with Patchett’s ability to write these people who I didn’t like all that much but still found myself captivated by their personalities and mundane details of their lives. The two parents in this situation exasperated me to no end, but by the end of the book, I kind of liked them. Same with several of the children (who are adults in their fifties when the book ends) – some of their decisions were just insane to me, yet I still compulsively read this story, desperate to get to know them even better as the book progressed.
What else can I say? Ann Patchett is so great in so many ways and I loved her latest offering. She just does so much with so little, is the only way I know how to explain it, and I am entranced by everything she writes. Highly recommended.