Thoughtful Thursday: Commonwealth

Posted 5 January, 2017 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Thoughtful Thursday: CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 322

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.

I’ve never been a huge Ann Patchett fan, so I didn’t gnash my teeth too much when I missed out on Commonwealth at BEA. However, when it showed up on the Tournament of Books longlist and after hearing all the praise that had since been heaped upon this novel, I decided to go ahead and pick it up.

Lord have mercy, I am so glad that I did. Commonwealth is a long-game character study in the tradition of John Irving. Patchett manages to render her characters beautifully, despite all their flaws and ugliness. She manages to make the reader care immensely for quite a large cast of characters in an impressively short page span. At a sparse 322 pages, I would have never guessed that Commonwealth could have made me care for Fix and Franny, Beverly, Caroline, Albie, even Bert and Leo(n). (et. al.) Despite the flaws that Patchett lays bare in each character, I found it impossible to really hate any of them. Instead I found even the worst of the characters (Bert, it had to be Bert) beautiful and struggling in his own way. Maybe it’s because I literally do the job that Bert Cousins did, I found his struggle to be at home with the kids and away from work and even his attraction to beautiful Beverly to be incredibly relatable.

This is a domestic novel, but it’s not just a domestic novel. There are many layers to be peeled away in Commonwealth, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This would be a great selection for a book club.

What about you Reader? I’m late to the game with this one? Anyone have other thoughts or feelings about Commonwealth?

April @ The Steadfast Reader


  • Leonie Clarkinaus

    Your review really wants me to give it another try ,
    I really loved state of wonder but found commonwealth too gabby (whatever that means )
    I shall try again with a lot more persistence!!
    Having a bit of a reading slump at the moment,
    I dont know how you do it !!!
    Well done april
    Cheers from i blame the heat in melbourne
    Leonie x

  • Lynne LeGrow

    “Commonwealth” was my first Ann Pratchett novel. My review:

  • So glad you loved this one! And I hadn’t recognized the John Irving comparison before, but YES!! It did feel like that!

  • I really loved this one, too, despite picking it up and setting it down several times. I’m not sure where I saw it, but someone mentioned that previous book (This is the Story of a Happy Marriage), which I *think* is a story collection?, really helps see where this novel came from.

  • This freaking book! SOoo many layers and ideal for a book group. I’ve never read anything by Patchett and I know die hard fans love other works by her better, but this made me fall in love with her as a writer. The story could have been just another dysfunctional family but she made it so much more.

  • You make a really good point! I didn’t love this book, but your review has made me pause and acknowledge that Patchett truly did an incredible job making a ton of unlikable characters empathetic. I’ve read three of Patchett’s books, including this one, and I’ve found the endings of all three a bit disappointing. Despite that, I definitely think she’s a master of the craft. Her writing is so beautiful!

  • Such a gorgeous review! You perfectly captured the essence of this book. Sadly, because I am a judge-y bitch I was not able to forgive Bert. His emotional abandonment of everyone in his life made me angry. (Could be that anti-wealthy, white male thing I have going on these days.)

    I did feel the same way about how Patchett wrote- so very honest yet kind.

  • Kristine

    I just wanted to thank you for your “Dear Friend” post last night. It is no longer online but I read it in my inbox this morning and it meant a lot that you would share this part of yourself. You are not alone. Your words matter.

  • I just finished COMMONWEALTH yesterday. I thought it was going to be a story about two families falling apart. yet it really was a book about stories. How we tell them and horde them. I really enjoyed the book a lot. And I liked your review, too.
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