Commonwealth: A Novel

by Ann Patchett

Hardcover, 2016

Status

Available

Collection

Publication

New York, NY : Harper, [2016]

Description

"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"--"Commonwealth is the story of two broken families and the paths their lives take over the course of 40 years, through love and marriage, death and divorce, and a dark secret from childhood that lies underneath it all"--… (more)

Media reviews

New York Times
...spans over 50 years, and the stories of how these children move uncertainly into adulthood — and how their parents adjust to the misfortunes that accrue — are painfully beautiful. (I went from bristling to weeping at 3 a.m.) Escaping the cage of your childhood can be one of the sublime miracles of growing up, though it sometimes requires more tools than the average jailbreak.
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Financial Times
a compelling novel, full of characters who ring true.
The Guardian (UK)
Patchett sucker-punches you, but leaves you feeling you had it coming – whether for underestimating her, or her characters, or humanity, is hard to say. In particular, Commonwealth is one of the most discerning novels about siblings I can recall. One pair of stepsiblings share an equivocal bond: “In that sense the two of them had been a team, albeit a team neither one of them wanted to be on.”

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
“Did you ever want to be a writer?” “No,” she said, and she would have told him. “I only wanted to be a reader.”

“Half the things in this life I wish I could remember and the other half I wish I could forget.”

A christening party, one Sunday afternoon, in southern California. Copious amounts of gin are consumed, leading to an illicit kiss. This brief encounter, in the kitchen, sets off a chain-reaction, breaking apart two families, and bringing them together again, with pieces missing or askew.
Loosely, based on Patchett's own tumultous childhood, the novel spans five deacades, looking closely at the lives of all six children and the parents. Yes, some are dysfunctional, groping their way to an uncertain future and others are more sure-footed. Unlikely friendships evolve among the siblings and some end up, hopelessly out of reach.
This book caught me by surprise, with it's depth, sense of humor and uncanny insight, into the human condition. And of course, the prose is delicious.
Patchett's work seems to be divisive, among readers, including this one but that leaves me somewhat baffled, because I think she is one of the best American writers working today.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
I wanted to like this book. I wanted to love this book! It's the story of a blended family over the decades of the children's lives, with various marriages, divorces, births, and one very tragic death as the centerpiece. In the last chapter, one of Patchett's characters comments about the difficulty of keeping a large cast of characters straight in her head and this appears to be a conscious nod to that very challenge in reading this book. But it wasn't just that most of the characters never developed into the terrain of the memorable; it's that the work it took to try to keep the characters straight (which kids were born to Bert and Teresa? Was it Beverly and Fix who had the christening party at the beginning of the novel?) wasn't rewarded. I understand that this very issue is part of Patchett's point. And I came to like Franny (it was her christening party) but I never rarely cared about the first-world problems this ever-shifting family faced, even though the tragedy of one child's death is hardly trivial.

My impression was that Patchett rushed her writing, almost like she had a publication deadline or something. She could have taken another 75 pages and then, instead of telling me that a character was "the quiet one" or "the bossy one," she could have shown me that, could have made me feel it. Which brings me to my most central reaction to the novel: Patchett had a great story to tell but at no point in the entire novel did she evoke an emotional reaction in me. A novel with a primary LT tag of "family" should make me feel something. This one failed to do so.

I'm giving it 2.5 stars, my rating for "average." It probably deserves more than that.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
On a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, Bert Cousins shows up uninvited to Franny Keating’s christening party – with a large bottle of gin. In relatively short order, the celebration is wildly out of hand, and Cousins has kissed Beverly, Franny’s mother, setting in motion the dissolution of two marriages and the blending of the Keating and Cousins families.

Commonwealth, ambitiously spanning five decades, is the story of how the chance encounter affects the lives of the four adults and the six children involved. The Keating and Cousins children travel back and forth between Los Angeles, which remains home, and Virginia, where they spend summers together. They forge a lasting bond based on their shared experience. When in her twenties, Franny begins dating famous author, Leon Posen, she tells him the story of her siblings and parents (and step-siblings and step-parents), and her family becomes the subject of his new and wildly successful novel. Ultimately, the characters must come to terms with their guilt and their losses, and with the connections they have formed (or not) with one another.

With equal measures of humour and heartache, Patchett expertly reminds us of the power and pull of family ties – despite their fragility. Simultaneously, through Franny’s telling of the Keating/Cousins’ story to Posen – and of its promotion to general publication – she invokes a meditation on the ownership of stories. Wonderful writing, highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
All the stories go with you, Franny thought, closing her eyes. All the things I didn't listen to, won't remember, never got right, wasn't around for. All the ways to get to Torrance.

This is a novel about two ordinary families, tied together by divorce and remarriage, who are messed up in ordinary ways. What makes this book so extraordinary is Patchett's writing, which is so perfect as to fade into invisibleness, never getting in the way of this story, and her compassion and interest in every member of these two families.

Each chapter reads like a short story, complete unto itself, and joined together, the chapters tell the story over several decades, beginning with the christening party where Bert Cousins first meets Beverly Keating, a meeting that will eventually result in six children spending summers together largely unsupervised, not naturally drawn together, but connected by proximity and shared experience in a way that will bond them through their adult lives.

I'm not drawn to family sagas and I'm glad I had no idea what the book was about before beginning, or I would have put off reading it. All I knew, opening the book to the first chapter, was that people were losing their minds over this book. This book is wonderful; that's all you need to know about it before you start. Enjoy.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
Family relationships have their own inherent complexity, but when you add on top of that all of the new possibilities with blended families, it just becomes a jumbled mess. What do you call the children your stepmom had before she became your stepmom? Or what do you call your stepmom if she and your father get divorced? The woman formerly known as my stepmom? But what seems like a mess to us is an opportunity for Ann Patchett. As she has demonstrated in her bestseller, Bel Canto, or my personal favorite The Magician's Assistant, Patchett is a master at capturing relationships. In Commonwealth, when Bert Cousins crashes a christening party for Franny Keating, and ends up kissing Franny's mother Beverly, he sets in motion a series of events that will drastically change the lives of both families. Over the next 50 years, we follow different members of the family through celebrations and tragedy.

Ann Patchett at her best!
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LibraryThing member Emma_Manolis
This is my first Patchett novel and while I didn't love it, I wasn't necessarily disappointed either. It explores a divorce and how that affects the children involved. I really liked that Patchett leaves a decent amount for you to fill in the blanks. What bugged me most about this novel was probably the amount of characters and the length of the novel itself. There were a lot of characters involved, but the book wasn't very long. That left me feeling like there were some characters who I just never really had the chance to understand, because I never really had the time to know them. . . despite spending decades with them.
A Line or Two: "For the vast majority of people on this planet. . . the thing that's going to kill them is already on the inside."
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LibraryThing member maneekuhi
The story begins at the christening party Fix and Beverley are throwing for 1 year old Franny, stuffed into her christening dress. It's attended by many of Dad's fellow cops and families, other families including neighbors, other relatives. It's LA, warm, orange trees all over, gin all over, people with too many drinks, and a kiss in the bedroom shared by Franny, but mostly by her mother, and an uninvited assistant. DA, Bert. Long chapter. Then we leap forward to several years later. Both adult kissers are now divorced and married to each other, kids are flying cross-country to honor visitation rights, and new families are being formed. The kids are angry and confused but so are the parents, at least a good bit of the time. Then there's another time shift, and a long chapter focusing on a kid from one family and a kid from another. There's a hint someone has died but who? How? And it goes on and on like this not necessarily in a chronologically straight line. But I found this structure just perfect, contrary to some other readers. This is about families, the confusion, the occasional chaos, pain, anger, unfulfilled dreams. Some of the characters deal with it very well, and others do not. The years pass by and some of the first generation die, and tragically a much younger person also passes. There are some very funny moments, and there is always great dialog. I thought this was a great book, one that I will likely read again, just as I am planning to re-read Patchett's excellent Bel Canto before year end. Five stars!… (more)
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
One beautiful summer afternoon in the middle of a christening party for little Frances Keating, the fate of two families is permanently changed. The events of that day ultimately lead to marital breakup for both Fix & Beverly Keating and Bert & Theresa Cousins. Commonwealth is the story of the impact on their children and on the children’s relationships with their parents and one another throughout their lives.

A commonwealth is defined as “a group of sovereign states and their dependencies associated by their own choice and linked with common objectives and interests,” and is a perfect metaphor for the two Keating and four Cousins children. Every summer they come together in Virginia (incidentally, also a Commonwealth), sharing bedrooms, adjusting to different family rules, and enjoying more freedom as a group than they are granted on their own. But this freedom comes at a cost, which has a profound effect on the adult each child becomes.

Much of the story is conveyed through an adult Franny, with chapters told by some of the Cousins children that fill in details Franny either wouldn’t have known or would have experienced very differently. The full picture comes together slowly and in pieces, like working on a “paint by number” project one number at a time. As the novel moves towards its conclusion, the children have become adults, the parents have become elderly, and the children have assumed their inevitable caregiving roles. At this point, Franny reflects on a series of “what ifs” in her life which would have prevented certain bad things from happening. But then she realizes that for every bad thing there was a good thing, which she would not have wanted to live without. This interconnectedness, even in the most dysfunctional of families, was a moving way to connect several threads, deliver emotional impact, and leave me with that satisfied feeling that comes from a very well-written novel.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
Two families, the Keating family and the Cousins family, have only a passing connection. Bert Cousins, a district attorney, works with Fix Keating, a police officer. But when Bert shows up uninvited to a christening party for Fix's younger daughter Franny, the two families' lives become tangled up for good. Patchett provides us with windows into five decades of life with the Keatings and the Cousins. Each chapter provides a rich look at a few hours in these families' histories. Together these episodes gradually fill in the full story of the joys and tragedies that these two families have shared together. I would have been happy with each chapter as a quiet stand-alone look at daily life, but the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The chapters come together to create the story of lives that will stay with me for a long time.… (more)
LibraryThing member Smits
I'm not sure I quite understood this novel. I love Ann Patchett and this novel is well written but I mixed the characters up at the beginning especially their relationship to each other.
The family dynamic is what makes the novel and I get that. it is about the ties and responsibilities family members have to and for each other. It is about neglectfull parents and miserable children . It is framed around a famous writer who turns the stories told to him by his lover Frannie into a successful novel called "Commonwealth".
I really did not like the abrupt ending.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
Ann Patchett is a remarkable novelist. She says, "I write the same book every time". Even if that's so, her devoted readers adore every word. This new novel challenges "Bel Canto" and "State of Wonder" as possibly her best. It's a series of set pieces in the midst of two families tied together by marriage and divorce and a complicated web of stepmothers and stepfathers. The real heroes are the six children, who come out scathed, as dads, barmaids, attorneys, bicycle builders, meditators, and dead. The star child is Franny, whose tales of waiting tables at Chicago's elegant Palmer House, and then as mistress to a faded author just glow with humor and pathos. Every chapter is a story onto itself and each could be held up as an example of how to mix plot and dialogue as the smoothest batter, with nary a lump. And it's even better upon second reading, which I did as soon as I finished the first time.… (more)
LibraryThing member kmmt48
Excellent dysfunctional family characterization novel with a heart. A little confusing in the beginning as there are many characters to meet but draws the reader in and the reader begins to care about the lives of this blended family.
LibraryThing member Perednia
A young assistant DA, in mid-20th century Los Angeles, wants to avoid going home to a house full of his wife and children, so he grabs a bottle of gin and pops uninvited into a christening party for a cop's second child. His gin and freshly squeezed juice, thanks to an orange tree in the backyard, lead to dancing and an unexpected kiss or two.

The party's aftermath includes new marriages and the bringing together of six stepchildren, four girls and two boys. They spent summers together in Virginia with a parent and step-parent, forging on as a group of individuals who find ways to get along and still be themselves. Their adventures exist in a world separated from the grown-ups who forced them together.

They are forced into independence when, for example, one mother disappears for the afternoon by hiding in the car, running the air conditioning and laying down in the back seat. (She realizes that since she's parked in the carport she won't be killing herself.) Or there is the time their parents sequester themselves in one motel room until 2 p.m. while the children hike over to a lake after breaking into the family car to take another fresh bottle of gin and the father's gun. The youngest, Albie, is a constantly moving whirl who drives the others crazy. The oldest boy, Cal, is allergic to bee stings so he carries Benadryl. The kids give Albie "breath mints" that are really the Benadryl, and when he sleeps they play, explore and have adventures without his interference.

The children come to two realizations. The first:

"The six children held in common one overarching principle that cast their potential dislike for one another down to the bottom of the minor leagues: they disliked the parents. They hated them."

The other realization:

"They had done everything they had ever wanted to do, they had had the most wonderful day, and no one even knew they were gone.

"It was like that for the rest of the summer. It was like that every summer the six of them were together. Not that the days were always fun, most of them weren't, but they did things, real things, and they never got caught."

In Ann Patchett's luminous new novel, Commonwealth, the children grow up, find loves and lives of their own, and remember their past. Patchett has a way of making the normal things in life, such as a neighborhood party in which the grown-ups become tipsy, the stuff of legend, the kind of story that helps define a family for itself.

That's befitting considering what happens with one of the children. Franny, the baby whose christening was celebrated, is a reader. She loves losing herself in books and is one of those naturally kind people who can consider the needs of others. Working as a cocktail waitress in a fancy Chicago hotel after law school doesn't click for her, Franny meets an author whose work she has adored. He is one of those older Eastern authors who lives on liquor and the adoration of young women. Leo Posen also is the kind of writer who appropriates what other people tell him. He calls Franny his muse. His novel, Commonwealth, extrapolated from the stories she tells him of those shared childhood summers, becomes a huge bestseller.

Franny feels used after she had been having the time of her life. This becomes even more true when they "escape" to the summer house of a famous actress who wants a role in the film that will surely be made of this novel, and houseguests descend, and one sibling shows up unexpectedly.

As with many contemporary novels, describing the basic outline of the story makes it sound dire. But it's not that kind of story. The older they grow, the more supportive they are, not out of guilt or obligation, but because that's who they are. And they are supportive across the generations and blending of families.

There are some twists, one major tragedy and a lot of redemption. There is an interesting twist on Chekhov's admonition to writers about what happens when a certain object is introduced inn a story. The last sentence of the novel, belonging to Franny, is a delight. Most of the characters have endearing moments, but Franny is a special character. She's pretty much become my grown-up Jo March.

Patchett knows how to make the mundane real and magical. There is one point where magic realism comes in, but it is used to bring peace and solace, which are the hallmarks of the final third of the novel. In other hands, some characters would have blamed others or themselves for things that happened. But these are characters who know that life is to be lived, for its own sake.
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LibraryThing member Romonko
3 1/2. Ann Patchett is an acquired taste, I have determined. This is the first time I've read any of her books, but I had read so many good reviews about this one, that I thought I'd give it a try. I found that this book moved too quickly and across too many time periods and too many time zones, and among too many people for my taste. It was hard to feel like there was any momentum going. And because of this, I couldn't really build up any affinity with any of the characters in the novel. It was interesting to see how Ann Patchett portrayed very ambiguous and non-functional family life - varied marriages, and amalgamations, and the history that the blended families developed with each other, but again it was done in so few pages, that I felt there wasn't much continuity. I like more background and character development in books than what I got here. If you like Ann Patchett, you'll probably enjoy this book. For me, I probably won't read anymore of her books.… (more)
LibraryThing member nfmgirl2
This story covers fifty years and several generations of two families bound together by infidelity, and the genuine affection that grew between the siblings of two broken families.

Fix is a cop in California, married to the moviestar-beautiful Beverly. They are the parents to two daughters, Caroline and Franny. Franny is just a babe and the center of a christening party when deputy DA Bert Cousins shows up at Fix's door with a bottle of gin. No one knows how Bert's appearance at this party will change the lives of all involved.

Bert and Theresa have three children at the start of their story, with one on the way, eventually finding themselves raising two boys and two girls.

A drunken moment between Bert and Beverly grows into something more, and it destroys two families, but out if it a new one is born. Caroline and Franny live most of the time with their mother and Bert in their new house in Virginia, and in the summer Bert's kids join them. During those long summers in a sleepy town and on family trips, the kids grow to genuinely care for one another. They become true siblings, watching one another's back. Well, all except that darn annoying Albie, the baby of the group, who is the hyperactive sort and drives everyone nuts!

This story follows these kids as they grow up, as their parents grow older, and as these kids begin having kids of their own. The story slowly builds up and then slowly unravels the truth behind what happened one terrible day that bound them all together forever.

My final word: This is a really great story. It's full of rich characters that you really get to know. It's written with sensitivity and humor and compassion, and there is a nice balance that keeps it from getting to heavy. Sometimes there will be a little allusion to something, piquing your interest, and only later in the story shining a light on the matter to more fully explain what happened and how you came to be here. Our book club has come to love this author, and I know that we will be adding this one to our reading list. Well done, Ann Patchett! I feel as if I just left a family reunion and miss everyone already!
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LibraryThing member oldblack
A very well crafted story of 30 or 40 years in the lives of connected family members. The families are complicated in their structure and relationships, but Patchett weaves the story together in a way that allowed me to follow and appreciate. This seemed to me to be very much a story of how small events can make a big difference to the course of our lives and how different people remember (or don't remember) those crucial events. It also looks at how the roles of family members can change over time, especially as the parents approach the end of their lives.… (more)
LibraryThing member ShawIslandLibrary
For me, reading Patchett is always a pleasure. Commonwealth is an unusually complex narrative, back and forth in time across two intersecting families (with part of the novel's narrative becoming a novel within the novel). What I love most about Patchett is the compassion she brings to her characters, and the careful attention to their idiosyncratic natures. In this work, there is also the fascinating interplay between memory and experience, which makes the final paragraph especially powerful. (Brian)… (more)
LibraryThing member voracious
This is a novel about two families split apart by an affair, divorce, and remarriage. With six children between two families (plus their partners and children) in a storyline that jumped back and forth in time over the course of 50 years, I found Commonwealth particularly difficult to follow. Like all Ann Patchett novel, this one is well written, with lush and descriptive passages and interesting scenes. However, I found the story to be emotionally distant and the inclusion of so many family members lessened my ability to connect with any of them. Subsequently, I found myself emotionally disengaged with the story and frequently frustrated by my confusion as I tried to recall who each character was and how each person was related to the other characters. Not my favorite Ann Patchett novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member Beamis12
4+ Early 1960, a christening party for baby Franny, where a spark will be ignited that will set up a chain of events that will echo down through the decades. Four adults, six children will be affected, and we will follow them as they try to maneuver through the many difficulties and tragedies fate will throw at them. The six children from the blended families will form, in the summers they spend together, a little tribe of their own and as a mother the things they got up to, with little adult supervision, made my hair stand on end.

Pritchett puts together a story of families, flawed families, but family nonetheless and very few do it better. Many of the characters are not likable, my favorite being Fix, the cop and father of two of the female children and one of the girls, the grownup Franny. Yet, they are easily recognizable as people who we may know, or know of, their problems ones shared by many. Wonderfully written, moving back and forth between characters, the reader eventually comes to know something about all of them. Still, this is very much Franny's story, she is the one we come to learn about the most.
Like in real life, all do not get a happy ending but getting there, reading about them was a wonderful experience. Reminded me a little of [book:The Children's Crusade|22609396], which I also enjoyed.

ARC from publisher.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Commonwealth, Ann Patchett, author; Hope Davis, narrator
Sometimes, a cataclysmic event is preceded by the most unlikely circumstances. The auspicious day that this occurred was the occasion of the christening of Franny Keating. Fix Keating’s house was filled with family, a family populated by police officers, when a gate-crasher arrived unexpectedly, but they graciously received him. Albert Cousins, the deputy District Attorney was an uninvited, unwanted guest who wanted desperately to escape his own house with his burgeoning family and the chaos it brought with it. He had three children with a fourth on the way, to eventually become his namesake. His wife Theresa was left behind to take care of the hearth and home as he knocked on the door of the Keating’s home and changed all of their lives forever.
Fix Keating was married to Beverly, a woman admired by all for her beauty and competence. A chance kiss in the kitchen, between Beverly and Albert while they were both inebriated, brought about the change that would alter all of their lives. An affair began between them which led eventually to divorce and the ultimate blending of their families. How those families thrived and survived, over several decades, is the subject of this novel. Although it begins with the christening, it often moved into different time periods with the exploration of the momentous occasions that shaped each of their lives going forward, sometimes using their memories, with a backward glance.
The tale revolved around the child celebrated on the day of the christening, Franny Keating, and her soon to be born step brother, Albert Cousins. When Franny had a chance encounter with a famous, but quickly fading from fame author named Leon Posen, who was twice her age, it set in motion an affair which lasted several years. His career was jump started again with the publication of his first successful book in a long time. It was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, but this book turns out to be the story of the Cousins and Keating lives over several decades, as it was confided to him by Franny, in their many intimate moments. To Leon, it was a novel he created, but to the family, it was an exposé.
This story is about a family in flux. The reader will become entangled in their growing pains as they all mature and suffer the indignities of life, the pain and suffering of loss, illness and death as well as the joys of life, relationships and success as time necessarily moves them along. The story was engaging and will hold the reader’s attention as the bittersweet moments are revealed. Blending a family is not easy, in reality or on paper, but the author did an admirable job of detailing the effects of divorce on the spouses and the children. Each of them had to come of age in a different time, different place and different way. Often, there was little supervision and the children had to raise themselves, replete with sibling rivalry, fibs they told to save themselves, feelings of betrayal because of circumstances beyond their control, and behavior that was sometimes abominable. However, the pervasive constant in the novel was the love they had for each other which nothing seemed to curtail or alter as years passed. That in itself was a surprise that sometimes stretched credibility.
The book was narrated well, but the events that moved back and forth in time causing me to feel that I was dropped into a scene without proper preparation, at times, coupled with the many names of characters that often left me in a quandary, led me to recommend a print book for this one, and I also recommend that the author include a family tree in future printings because it was hard to keep track of which child belonged to which family and which wife was whose, since some married multiple times and they all had extended families, friends and partners.
The characters were not always very likeable as their personalities were examined and as the author showed the far reaching unexpected consequences of that chance encounter on the day of Franny’s christening. At some times, although the book seemed confusing as the story developed, in the end, all of the loose ends were woven together very neatly as the deliberate misdirections of the author were clarified. The author has stated in interviews that this book has many moments in it that were drawn from her own life experience.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Loved this book. Loved the people and the time line. Really good read. Her best since Bel Conte
LibraryThing member maryreinert
Bert Cousins shows up at a colleague's child's baptism party and falls in love with the mother of the child, Beverly Keating. After the divorce, the two Keating children, Franny and Caroline, are forced into a blended family with the four Cousins children, Cal, Jeanette, Holly, and Albie. Teresa Cousins, the jilted wife remains in California and has her two children during the school year as does Fix Keating, the father of Franny and Caroline. During the summer, the six children live with Bert and Beverly in a dysfunctional and random relationship. The book is told through the eyes of several of the children and skips throughout their lives.

Cal dies at an early age; Jeannette marries a man from Africa and lives in Brooklyn; Holly discovers Zin meditation in Switzerland and rarely comes back; Albie, the "black sheep" of the family wonders, both physically and emotionally. Much of the story is told from the perspective of Franny who as a cocktail waitress in Chicago becomes involved in a relationship with Leo Posen, a very famous writer. She tells Leo many of her family's experiences which he takes and develops into a book entitles "Commonwealth." The publicizing of that book brings many dark secrets and causes all those involved to feel violated.

As time goes by and the original four parents are aging, the children find themselves in different roles. Franny and Caroline, always at odds, find a common ground. The marriages and re-marriages of the original parents add to or distract further.

It took a while for this book to grab me, but there is no doubt the writing is excellent and in spite of some very unlikable characters, I found it held my attention to the end.
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LibraryThing member dele2451
A blended family of brothers and sisters survive (well, most of them) far flung lives in spite of, and because of, one another. Masterfully done.
LibraryThing member lgaikwad
Ann Patchett is a favorite of mine, and I eventually expect her writing to lose its freshness and become formulaic. But it hasn't yet. This story held me fast until the end. As is frequent with her books (excluding Bel Canto), it seems the story holds a truth that is lived into...and takes the whole story and all the characters to do it. I don't find myself underlining quotes or excerpts, instead, the whole story holds what I receive.

In this, I was struck by the "commonwealth" - that is, the lives enriched by the unexpected, unplanned, and often "mis-connected" insular community. And the thought that what is going to kill us is likely already within us, not something that will unexpectedly attack us from outside. And, I love the idea of story that we hold only for ourselves, or share with only one other person, as juxtaposed with the commonwealth.
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LibraryThing member bookchickdi
I can vividly remember reading Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto on my front porch one summer. I was mesmerized by her stunning story of a hostage situation in an unnamed South American country, and how I just fell into the book and didn't come out until the end.

Her last novel, State of Wonder, about a research scientist who goes to the Amazon to search for her missing mentor, also brought me into a completely new world, one I wouldn't know that much about or even dream I would be interested in.

Her newest novel is set closer to her own home. Commonwealth is the story of a blended family- a man with four young children leaves his wife and marries a woman with two children. (This happened to Patchett's family.) How that comes about, and the repercussions of the man kissing a woman who is not his wife at a neighborhood party, makes for a story that may be more relatable to most people.

Albert is a district attorney in Southern California in the 1960's. He goes to a christening party for the daughter of Fix, a police officer he doesn't know well, and becomes enchanted with Fix's beautiful wife Bev. He kisses Bev and soon leaves his wife and children and takes Bev and her two daughters to Virginia to live.

The opening scene of the party is brilliantly done. Fix the cop describes DA's as "the guys who smoked your cigarettes because they were trying to quit." Soon Albert is not only smoking Fix's cigarettes, he has stolen Fix's wife Bev.

Years later, Fix tells his adult daughter Franny that Bev "didn't have her own character. She turned into whoever she was sitting next to. When she was sitting next to Miss Free Love then free love sounded like a great idea."

The story spans five decades, and we see the children grow from six children thrown together in summers in Virginia to adults, all bearing the scars of a childhood that included a tragedy most of them never got over.

Franny, the baby at the christening, grew up and met Leo Posen, a famous novelist who falls in love with her. She tells Leo her family's tale and he turns it into his comeback novel titled 'Commonwealth'. Franny is staying with Leo at the home of a wealthy actress in the Hamptons, and ends up acting as servant to the many people who decide to descend uninvited, including her younger stepbrother Albie, who comes to confront her about the book.

There are many characters in this moving story, and Patchett excels at crystalizing each one in a few scenes. A book that covers five decades of a family could easily clock in at over 600 pages, but Patchett manages to create this world in just over 300 pages.

Fix was my favorite character in the book, an honorable man who loves his children and even shows great kindness to Albert's first wife when she needed it. I also loved that Albert's first wife picked herself up and got a great job to support her family when her husband left her.

Commonwealth is based on Patchett's family, and Franny is her doppleganger. Patchett has said in interviews about the book that she spoke to all of her siblings about the book, getting their blessing to tell the story. I'm not sure how many families would be OK with that. As I read the book I kept thinking, "what would a book about your childhood look like?"

I think perhaps she felt the time was right to write this intensely personal book, one so close to home. At one point Frannie and her sister Caroline are riding in the car with their ailing father and Frannie thinks of Fix:
"All the stories go with you, Frannie thought, closing her eyes. All the things I didn't listen to, won't remember, never got right, wasn't around for."
I think that line sums up Patchett's place in her life, one that many middle-aged people are dealing with as well. You get to a certain point in life and you contemplate how you got to where you are, and how your family played such a big role in that.

Commonwealth is not a story that you race through to finish. It's one to savor and ponder, and upon reflection I liked it much more a week or so after I finished it than when when I closed the book. I highly recommend it.
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