Sunday, July 28, 2019


Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (2016)

Bert Cousins attends a christening party uninvited, bringing with him a bottle of gin as a gift, and after really getting the party going he ends up kissing the mother of the party's honoree. This sets in motion the breakup of both their marriages and reforms the families. Bert's four kids and Beverly's two are now step-siblings and the new relationships changes the paths of all their lives. One of those lives is cut short, and the others hide what really happened that day for decades. Then one of them tells the story to a writer, and their secrets are published in a bestselling novel.

The biggest hurdle with this book is the number of characters and their complicated relationships. There are six kids and four parents, and I kept forgetting which kids belonged to which parents and which parents were married to who, or used to be married to who. Granted, I began this book the day before leaving on vacation and was just reading bits here and there throughout most of my vacation but I think it would have still been confusing.

Otherwise it was a good story and the characters we really got to know were compelling. Franny Keating was the baby newly christened in the opening pages of the book, and as an adult she was a cocktail waitress trying to figure out what to do with her life. She meets an author she admires a lot and ends up in a relationship with him. Her sister Caroline is a lawyer, though we don't get her full story. They are still close with their step-siblings, Albie being the most interesting (in my opinion) of them. He was the youngest and played a key role in the tragedy that occurred in their childhood. Mostly because he was so annoying and the other kids were always trying to get rid of him, which they did by giving him Benadryl so he'd fall asleep.

I liked how they all tried to take care of each other their whole lives, even those who weren't really related. For instance, Caroline and Franny helped out their stepfather's ex-wife when she needed it. She was their step-siblings' mother after all, and therefore they did not even think of not helping her, even though they didn't really know her. More than anything, this was a novel about the meaning of family and all the forms that families can take.

It took me a while to read since, as I mentioned, I was reading bits here and there on vacation. But at a certain point I had more free time and really sat down with it for bigger chunks of time, which I think was much better because of the number of characters and the jumping back and forth in time. Ann Patchett's writing is always a pleasure to read, and this novel was no exception.

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