I’m happy to say that TLC Book Tours gave me an excuse to try out an author I’ve always meant to read, but somehow never got around to reading. Thanks TLC! I own three of Ann Patchett’s books, including the award winning “Bel Canto“. However, with review commitments, I didn’t get to them. Now I know I’ve got some excellent reading in store.
“Commonwealth” was unexpected. Its myriad characters put me off at first. There were so many that I couldn’t seem to keep them straight. Then, there were the extreme jumps in time period, sometimes as much as fifty years… After I got my head around accepting the challenge, I just decided to roll with it and see where it led. What a good decision!
Our memories are a collection of disjointed scenes, colored by our emotions at the time. Like our memories, “Commonwealth“, is a treasure trove of vivid scenes sewn together to make a cohesive whole. And what scenes! There was one I will always remember.
It was of six young children, negligently unsupervised, who are left to their own devices for seven hours in a strange motel. They decide to seek out a nearby lake and set off with several cans of Coke, several chocolate bars, a full bottle of gin, and… a gun!
Then there was one of a young woman taking (very expensive) lobsters that someone had purchased for a meal, and snipping their bands, released them back into the ocean.
And the one where Franny meets Leon while working behind the bar. She takes her heels off because her feet are hurting…
The one where Albie, the smallest boy, is drugged with Benadryl by the other children so that he won’t have to accompany them on their adventures. They leave him sleeping in a pile of dirty laundry.
And one scene, particularly poignant, where an older man was taken to the beach in his wheelchair…
Scenes which, while separately seem disjointed – join to form a portrait of a blended family.
It all began at a christening party. When an uninvited guest, (a married father of four) felt attracted to the baby’s young and beautiful mother of two. Their lives moved on to break apart two marriages and the lives of their six children. Strangely, the children held no animosity toward one another, they kept that solely for their parents.
“Commonwealth” may refer to the Commonwealth of Virginia, where one of the sets of parents lived. Or, it could refer to the ‘common wealth’ of the blended family. Children who seemed much richer when together. The story is set in two states: California and Virginia. The two children from California spent their summers with the four children from Virginia.
A traumatic event happens to the family one summer which forever colors their psyche and the family’s collective memory. Years later, when this event is related to a novelist by one of the grown up children, their story, once deeply personal, is made into a novel (also called “Commonwealth”) which exposes their story to the world.
“How difficult it would be to map out all the ways the future would unravel without the moorings of the past”.
There are so many interesting characters in “Commonwealth” that it is hard to say that one is the ‘protagonist’. Though… if I had to chose one, it would be Franny. She is the baby who was being celebrated at the christening party at the beginning. She is a reader, and introspective. It is she who falls in love with a much older author and shares her family’s story with him. It is she that brings this story to a close.
This is a story of love in its myriad forms. Of siblings who come to cherish one another. It is also a story of fate, loss, disappointments, mistakes, betrayal, and regret. “Commonwealth” is a novel that is, above all else, real and it eloquently depicts the quiet drama that is everyday life.
Now I know why Ann Patchett has garnered a reputation for quality literary fiction.
TLC Book Tours has generously let me host a GIVEAWAY of one print copy of “Commonwealth“!
To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog between the dates of October 3, 2016 and October 10th, 2016. (with apologies to my followers in Canada, Great Britain and elsewhere, TLC has stipulated that the giveaway is limited to residents of the United States only ).
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.