Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Tolstoy famously said that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." While happy families may not be as homogeneous as he suggested, certainly all families carry different seeds of unhappiness within themselves and therein lies their story. In Ann Patchett's newest novel, Commonwealth, two families which subsequently re-form into one extended family via divorce and remarriage are certainly unhappy in their own ways.

Opening with assistant DA Bert Cousins crashing cop Fix Keating's baby daughter's christening party in order to escape the demands of his own wife and three, soon to be four, children, the novel follows the Keating and Cousins families through the transformations of the next five decades. Bert's presence at the party is the catalyst for upheaval in both homes as Bert and Beverly Keating have an affair, subsequently leaving their spouses for each other and moving from California to Virginia with Beverly's children. The six step siblings, adrift together in the summers, without much adult supervision, are forever changed by a catastrophic event. In later years, when Franny Keating, the baby of the christening party is grown up and meets a famous author in search of a story, she offers that of her family, which he will use both in ways true and untrue to the original story. It is this fictionalization of the family's life that will, in some ways, continue to define the characters well into middle and old age as they both see themselves in the tale and at the same time reject the portrayals.

This novel is very much a character driven family drama. Franny is certainly the central character in that many of the perceptions, indeed all of those passed to the famous writer, are from her perspective. But more than simply the tale of a dysfunctional pair of families, this is about relationships. It is about family, natural, blended, and extended. It is about broken people connecting, failing, but still trying to forge bonds with other imperfect people. It is about forgiveness and guilt, the way we hurt others, what we share with those closest to us, and who our stories ultimately belong to. There are large gaps of time in the narrative which can lead to a bit of temporal disorientation and certain of the characters are definitely less fleshed out than others.  But if this is not quite as strong as some of Patchett's other works, it is still a well written and introspective novel worth the read.

For more information about Ann Patchett and the book, check out her web page, visit her blog. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. The different ways a family can be formed has always fascinated me. Stories that focus on family are some of my favorites.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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