Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Commonwealth

Summary: 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. -- Harper

I am so late in reviewing COMMONWEALTH by Ann Patchett, and I honestly don't have a good excuse. My book club read this two month's ago for book club, and I liked it... a lot. I think things are just out of control right now with my daughter's high school graduation less that four weeks away -- AHHHHH! I can't keep everything straight and my reading and reviews are definitely reflecting that!

Anyway... back to the book. COMMONWEALTH is a rich story about two families and the effects a chance encounter had on their lives. It all began when Bert Cousins came (uninvited by the way) to Franny Keating's baptism party. Despite being married and a father, Bert falls quickly for Franny's mom, Beverly; and the two share a kiss before the party ends. This kiss ends up breaking up two marriages and forever changing the direction of the lives of everyone involved.

Beverly and Bert marry and moving to Virginia -- far away from their spouses and children who reside in Southern California. All six of the kids end up spending summers together in Virginia and forming long-standing friendships. There are a few normal issues associated with blended families, but for the most part, they all get along and respect each other. However, there is one defining event from their childhood that will forever haunt each one of them.

The book also follows Franny's life, as well as a few of her siblings, and eventually spans almost fifth years. Franny begins an affair with a famous author and shares stories about her family. He ends up writing about the Franny's family and it brings to light many of the family's losses, regrets, and love.

I adored COMMONWEALTH. Of course, what can I really say about Ann Patchett's writing that hasn't already been said. She's nothing short of a genius! What really stood out to me about this novel, though, was how different it was from the other books of hers that I've read. Ms. Patchett's writing skills defy the imagination (or at least mine!) She is just so darn versatile and I'll never cease to be impressed by her prose.

What I loved the most about COMMONWEALTH was how realistically families (and especially blended families) were portrayed. The book begins in the early 1970s and I definitely think Ms. Patchett captured the essence of this time period. She also did a wonderful job in showing how divorce hits these two families. (Remember, this was a time when divorce was relatively rare.) The blending of the families was extremely realistic to me, and I loved the atmosphere she created with the kids all running wild in the summers.

I also really appreciated how the author demonstrated how our childhoods have a lifelong effect on our lives. There is one very important event that occurs in this novel (no spoilers!), and it definitely plays a role in the lives and decisions of the children. As the secrets of these families are revealed (through no fault of their own), each person is forced to face the past and deal with their guilt and regrets.

COMMONWEALTH made a great book club selection; however, I'll admit that we didn't discuss it the way I would have liked. Having said that there are so many things to discuss from the characters and their relationships with each other, to the symbolism of the title. In addition, I think the themes of stories and ownership definitely give some food for thought. There is a terrific reading guide available with seventeen questions. Some of the themes you might want to further explore include divorce, family, love, secrets, loss, grief, regrets, parent/child relationships, the role of stories, and more!

Overall, I found COMMONWEALTH to be an excellent read. Highly recommend for readers who enjoy stories about family dramas as well as fans of Ann Patchett!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I've kind of avoided this book because I didn't love State of Wonder. I know the books are nothing alike so I need to get over it and pick this one up. Great review!

Kim@Time2Read said...

I'd never heard of this book, but I've added it to my list now. You've made it sound so interesting!
BTW, I understand what you mean about your book club not discussing the book the way you would have liked. That is really frustrating sometimes, when I think there is so much to discuss and my book club gets sidetracked so that we never really discuss the book thoroughly!

The Book Sage said...

I"m with Kathy on State of Wonder. But I also wasn't a huge fan of Commonwealth. I liked it okay - 2.5/4. But I really actually really liked Bel Canto (it sits on my rec table) as well as her other books. Despite my mediocre reception for Commonwealth, I will still read her books.