Published: September 13, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
You might enjoy this book if you like: Family sagas, family secrets, multi-generational novels
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.
I have to admit that I do love a good Ann Patchett book. She is one of those writers who just has the voice that cuts through all the frills and gets right to the reader's heart. So, being a fan of hers--as well as a fan of family sagas--I knew I had to get my hands on this book as soon as possible.
From the first page, I was drawn in--and picking teams. I knew almost immediately that Bert and Beverly would have my ire, and that Fix, Beverly's husband would have my sympathy. None of these characters--Bert, Beverly, Fix, or their assorted children--are black and white. They are flawed messes, yet they are all fascinating.
Each character gets their due attention and, of them all, I found Franny to be the most interesting. I wouldn't say that this is surprising as the inciting incident of the novel happens at her christening party. Yet, her sister and step-siblings are just as complex. Their lives are shaped by one encounter and they all bear the brand of that moment on their lives.
This story has a fairly large time span, yet each time period is distinct. We start in the mid-twentieth century and it comes alive with all its angular beauty. As we move through the decade, the reader is brought into a different time period much like they would be brought to a different place. This was a feature of the book that surprised me--you wouldn't think that there would be such a marked difference between decades, but the evolution of time and society is clear here.
Now, here's the thing. I really enjoyed this book as I read it. But it wasn't a book that I felt compelled to read. What I mean is that I would read a chapter or so--and enjoy the experience--and put it down. Then I never felt the burning need to pick it up again to find out what happens next. I'm not sure why this is. It could be because the narrative moves between time and characters so much. Or it could be that I just read it at the wrong time in my life. There is no one thing that I can bring up that didn't work for me--it just wasn't a book that was as compelling as I would have liked.
In the end, all I can say is that this is an excellent piece of writing. It is something that is a pleasure to read, but not something that really penetrated my psyche enough to build that reader/novel connection. However, I could be the odd one out here....I would still recommend this book widely as I'm sure that others would have more success than I did.
Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of nonfiction. She has won many prizes, including Britain’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the co-owner of Parnassus Books.
Find out more about Ann on her website and follow her bookstore, Parnassus Books, on Twitter.
I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.
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