‘A powerful tale of a family’s far-reaching bonds of love and responsibility – and a meditation on inspiration, interpretation and the ownership of stories.’
Commonwealth is the first novel I have read by Ann Patchett and I loved it. The story-line, the era, the characters all lending to a fascinating insight into the aftermath of a decision made, an action that could not be withdrawn.
Published in September 2016 by Bloomsbury, Commonwealth is a book I had been looking forward to reading over Christmas.
Read on for my thoughts…..
About the Book
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.
As soon as I had started Commonwealth I felt immediately drawn to all the characters.
Beverly Keating is good mother. Her husband,Fix, works hard in the police force. They have two girls, Caroline and Franny. The family is complete. Following the birth of Franny, Beverly and Fix host a christening party. Their neighbours, friends and family all attend in jovial spirits sipping tea and nibbling on sandwiches. Everyone is relaxed and having a nice time.
Bert Cousins shows up with a large bottle of gin and immediately the dynamic of the party changes. Bert is in awe of Beverly, her beauty, her poise astounds him. Bert, married to Teresa, is frustrated. Not happy with his life, Beverly becomes this elusive figure in his head, a person with whom he could attain happiness in the everyday mundanity of life. Circumstances throw Bert and Beverly in a room together and before they know what they are doing…they kiss.
This one action has the expected domino affect. Both marriages fall apart and the children become the fall out of two broken homes, crossing the country on visits to their respective parents.
Commonwealth follows the paths of these six children. We follow their highs, their lows, their mistaken actions and the direction their lives take. Bert, Beverly, Fix and Teresa each attempt to carry on with their lives and create new homes for themselves and their kids. Events take place that shape the lives of each child, but it is Franny whose story we follow more closely.
Franny, never really sure of herself, works as a cocktail waitress in Chicago. Fix had always wished for her to be a lawyer but it wasn’t to be. Franny never really had the love for it that her sister Caroline had and eventually dropped out of college in an attempt to discover herself a little better. One evening, at the bar she works in, she crosses paths with a famous writer Leon Posen. His books have always been among her favourite and Franny soon becomes enthralled by his every word. She opens up to him and unwittingly reveals all the secrets and regrets of her youth and that of her family.
Leon sees the beauty in what Franny reveals and, with her permission, puts pen to paper and tells her story. The book becomes extremely successful but for Franny and her family there is a price to pay.
Has Franny overstepped the line?
Can the other family members deal with the exposure and revelations of their family story?
Well now..that would be telling!!
Ann Patchett has written a wonderful novel that, for me, was reminiscent of Sebastian Faulks ‘On Green Dolphin Street’.
We charter the lives of two families thrown together by a kiss. Such a small gesture but yet with huge consequences.
I love a novel that spans generations. Ann Patchett has perfectly portrayed the different decades with excellent descriptive prose. Beverly and Fix’s party was picture perfect, almost cinematic in it’s descriptions. The lives the children lived through the seventies and eighties, pure dreamscape. Franny and Leon’s life by the sea almost reminiscent of The Lost Generation in Antibes in the 20’s.
If you love the American drama of a family’s life laid out for you in almost photographic detail, Commonwealth is definitely the book for you.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope you do too!!
Purchase Link : Commonwealth
ANN PATCHETT is the author of seven novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magicians Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, State of Wonder, and Commonwealth. She was the editor of Best American Short Stories, 2006, and has written three books of nonfiction–Truth & Beauty, about her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy, What Now?,an expansion of her graduation address at Sarah Lawrence College, and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of essays examining the theme of commitment.
In November, 2011, she opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, with her business partner Karen Hayes. Along with James Patterson, she was the honorary chair of World Book Night. In 2012 she was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Ann Patchett lives in Nashville with her husband, Karl VanDevender, and their dog, Sparky.