Tag: character studies


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
Goodreads
four-half-stars

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

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Terrific Tuesday: Forty Rooms

Posted 17 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: Forty RoomsForty Rooms by Olga Grushin
Published by Penguin on February 16th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Contemporary Women, Family Life
Pages: 336
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
five-stars

Totally original in conception and magnificently executed, Forty Rooms is mysterious, withholding, and ultimately emotionally devastating. Olga Grushin is dealing with issues of women’s identity, of women’s choices, that no modern novel has explored so deeply.
“Forty rooms” is a conceit: it proposes that a modern woman will inhabit forty rooms in her lifetime. They form her biography, from childhood to death. For our protagonist, the much-loved child of a late marriage, the first rooms she is aware of as she nears the age of five are those that make up her family’s Moscow apartment. We follow this child as she reaches adolescence, leaves home to study in America, and slowly discovers sexual happiness and love. But her hunger for adventure and her longing to be a great poet conspire to kill the affair. She seems to have made her choice. But one day she runs into a college classmate. He is sure of his path through life, and he is protective of her. (He is also a great cook.) They drift into an affair and marriage. What follows are the decades of births and deaths, the celebrations, material accumulations, and home comforts—until one day, her children grown and gone, her husband absent, she finds herself alone except for the ghosts of her youth, who have come back to haunt and even taunt her.
Compelling and complex, Forty Rooms is also profoundly affecting, its ending shattering but true. We know that Mrs. Caldwell (for that is the only name by which we know her) has died. Was it a life well lived? Quite likely. Was it a life complete? Does such a life ever really exist? Life is, after all, full of trade-offs and choices. Who is to say her path was not well taken? It is this ambiguity that is at the heart of this provocative novel.

There is no way I can say enough good things about Grushin’s Forty Rooms. I’ll admit that while the first two or three chapters are flawlessly written, it still took about that long for this book to really grab me. But once it did, it didn’t let go until the end.

Let’s just start with the premise. Writing a novel around the idea that people on average inhabit about forty rooms during their lifetime, each chapter being a different point in time in the life of our protagonist, starting with early childhood. The writing in each chapter is skillfully and beautifully rendered, matching the thought patterns of each period of life it’s meant to represent. We begin with the little girl in the bathroom who is reflecting with childish thoughts about what it means for different members of her family to be bathing her. The prose is just so perfect that by the time I was grabbed by this story I felt like every part of it could be related back to my own life.

Forty Rooms is fantastic. Despite that there are many people who this book did not work for. I can’t recommend this book to people who need constant action. I can’t recommend it to people who dislike introspective character studies or can’t deal with ambiguity in a novel. Everyone else should definitely read it.

For a much more eloquent and well written review visit Catherine over at Gilmore Guide to Books.

Whatcha thinking, Reader? Does Forty Rooms sound like it might be your jam?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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