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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth (2016)

by Ann Patchett

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,9841295,041 (3.88)158
  1. 10
    After This by Alice McDermott (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These literate family sagas follow American Catholic families through the decades. Commonwealth portrays two families that break apart and come back together in new combinations, while the drama in After This stems from a changing world.… (more)
  2. 10
    The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (Micheller7)
  3. 00
    A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (figsfromthistle)
  4. 01
    Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty (LAKobow)
    LAKobow: Several families and the way their actions are intertwined.

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» See also 158 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
More like 3.5 stars, but rounding down. It was a solid novel, but lacked anything truly inventive. ( )
  Katie_Roscher | Jan 18, 2019 |
Commonwealth refers to the State of Virginia, known as the Commonwealth of Virginia where part of this novel is set. It is about family relationships that develop, grow and change as the decades go by. There is a span of about 50 years starting in the early 1960's with lots of flashbacks.

This is the story of two families, two divorces, four parents and six children. The kids end up in blended families and become like real sisters and brothers. Since they have little adult supervision, they are on their own a lot and go off together to explore (some of the situations are scary).

There are a lot of characters in this novel, some are not likable but they all seem like actual, real-life people. They are flawed but deep-down they care about each other. While we follow each of the parents and children, the novel belongs to Franny as we are introduced to her in the first chapter when she is less than one year old.

Ann Patchett is a talented author and I have read two of her other works: Bel Canto and State of Wonder. She knows how to grab you at the beginning and manages to keep your interest throughout. ( )
  pegmcdaniel | Jan 15, 2019 |
Summary: Traces the lives of six children and the parents from two families over five decades from the beginnings of an affair at a christening that broke up two marriages and threw the children together.

"The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin."

In one sense, the whole story of Commonwealth turns on that first line. Albert Cousins joins Fix Keating's wife Beverly in the kitchen as they make drinks, and imbibe in a few, setting up the beginnings of an affair that led each to divorce their spouses, Teresa and Fix, throwing together the two Keating girls, Caroline and Franny, and the four Cousins children together, Cal, Holly, Jeannette, and Albie, who spend much of their growing up years together in Virginia (the Commonwealth).

The book moves between their childhood together, how this "blended family" negotiates the passage into adulthood, and maturity. Two of the six children dominate the narrative--Franny and Albie.

Franny, the baby at the christening seems to wander through much of her life, dropping out of law school, unlike her successful patent attorney sister, working as a cocktail waitress, and living for a number of years with novelist Leon Posen, who appropriates the family story in a best selling novel, Commonwealth, rejuvenating his career.

Albie, the youngest Cousins was the annoying younger brother, often dealt with by "tic-tacs" from his older brother (benedryl) that put him to sleep and out of their hair, which he was on the fatal day when Cal dies on an outing with the others. Only when he reads Posen's book, given him as a bicycle messenger to publishers in New York, does he understand the unwitting part he played in his brother's death, and figures out how the family's story was appropriated. He's staying with Jeannette and her husband in a cramped New York apartment. Meanwhile, Holly is off in Switzerland, meditating.

Fifty years later, Fix is dying of esophageal cancer and the other parents are aging. We see how the surviving children of these two families come to terms with their shared family history, the parents they lived with, and those they visited on custodial visits. The tender moments with Fix those with Franny. Albie, who nearly burned down a school when he was living a difficult adolescence with Teresa becomes the one who checks in on her in her later years. Weirdly, despite Albie's anger with Franny for giving away the family story, there is a bond between them as the youngest children that brings them together in the closing parts of the book.

Guns, kept but unused, figure both in the death of Cal, and with Fix who wants Franny to end his suffering. Gin also recurs at the end of the story between Albert and the baby at the christening--now mature Franny, married to Kumar in Chicago. Circles close, but Franny makes different choices, keeping "something for herself."

I'm still deciding what I think of this book. As always, I love the writing of Patchett and the complexity of her characters and their relationships. There is no great crisis or drama--simply the wandering ways of different children trying to find their ways in life, the quarrels and reconciliations that occur in families. The number of children, the movements between childhood, early and later adulthood felt disjointed at times. Perhaps as much as anything, this reflects the disruption and disjointedness that affairs and divorce bring into the lives of all who are touched by them, and the ways children have to come to terms with step-parents, step siblings, non-custodial birth parents. It all seems very modern, a story many readers have lived themselves. Will they see themselves in Patchett's characters? Will they like what they see or gain insight as they follow these characters through life? Will they want to? I'll leave that to you. ( )
  BobonBooks | Jan 9, 2019 |
Gave up after 50 pages. I assume the author will eventually get around to explaining what happened in the decades between between chapter 1 and chapter 2, but not to me. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Sep 15, 2018 |
A somewhat quiet character study. ( )
  ChrisWay | Sep 2, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
...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.
added by charl08 | editNew York Times
a compelling novel, full of characters who ring true.
added by charl08 | editFinancial Times
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.”
added by charl08 | editThe Guardian (UK)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ann Patchettprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bouvard, LaurenceNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, HopeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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to Mike Glasscock
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The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.
Half the things in this life I wish I could remember and the other half I wish I could forget.
The priest, whose mind was wandering like the Jews in the desert, tried to focus again on his sermon
You could see just a trace of the daughter there, the way she held her shoulders back, the length of her neck. It was a crime what time did to women.
When the six of them were together they looked more like a day camp than a family, random children dropped off on the same curb.
Caroline was a lot angrier than the rest of them. It was there in her voice all the time. Then again, it could have been that Cal was the angriest and his anger just manifested itself in different ways.
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"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)

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