About Commonwealth• Hardcover: 336 pages
• Publisher: Harper (September 13, 2016)
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.
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Photo by Melissa Ann Pinney
About Ann PatchettAnn 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.
You've probably heard the butterfly effect theory: A butterfly who flaps its wings just so in New Mexico can cause a hurricane in China. This book reminds me of the butterfly effect, how one small action between two adults can continually influence events decades later. Oh, what a tangled web...a very well-written tangled web!
Ann Patchett is such a wonderful storyteller. I could not put Commonwealth down; I read it in one day! My family didn't get dinner, and I missed four innings of the Cubbies game. What held my attention, you ask? The camaraderie of the Cousins and Keating children, that's what. I felt for these kids as they are uprooted from their home in California and move to Virginia (the Keating girls), and are joined by their four step-siblings, the Cousins, each summer. Often left to their own devices, their ingenious shenanigans made me giggle and smile, especially their method for containing the youngest kid. Unfortunately their ingenuity (and lack of adult supervision) leads to tragedy. But come to think of it, didn't we all enjoy a lack of adult supervision (those of us of a certain age who grew-up in the seventies)? Our parents were busy doing other things. Helicopter parents had not been invented yet. Plus we didn't have the electronic leashes our kids have today.
My favorite character is the youngest of the siblings, Albie. He is serendipitously given a copy of Posen's book and he has no idea that it's based on his family until he reads it and rcognizes himself in the novel. His hurt over the book breaks my heart, and I can't help but wonder how this generation of children will feel later in life looking back on social media posts made by their parents.
I highly recommend Commonwealth. Honestly it's worth it just for the opening scene, Franny's christening party. Patchett's descriptive prose of this party is truly remarkable.
I know I'm going off on a tangent here, but I listened to Ann Patchett's interview Monday on the Diane Rehm show on NPR. I must say that I'm so impressed at how totally unplugged Patchett is! She said that she feels like a human in a zombie movie because everyone is constantly staring at little screens. I think I could unplug, but I'd miss my blog friends and Pinterest. Ironically the only reason I joined Facebook was for my book club: The decision was made to quit sending emails and communicate via a Facebook page. Since I no longer participate in this book club, I could give up FB! Click on this link to read and listen to the interview.
Patchett is so good at writing about people who are displaced, facing situations completely our of their comfort zones. She is truly one of my favorite writers, and Bel Canto is one of my all-time favorite books. You can read my review of another one of my favorites, State of Wonder, here.
I am also a huge fan of Patchett's bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville. It's one of my favorite indie bookstores, and I always pay a visit while in Nashville.
Check this out: Here are some scenes from our home library.