by Ann Patchett
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.
He could see him now, that same brown suit all detectives wore to court, like there was only one and they shared it.
The children, who seem only to be atmospheric and charming at first, are more like a ball of snakes.
They were her kidnappers, sailing her across the lawn and into the backseat of the car, lifting up her feet while pivoting her around in a way that was disturbingly professional, as if stealing old people was what they did.
She eased her heels out of the backs of her shoes even though she knew it was a mistake. Her feet would expand like bread dough and she would never be able to cram them back in.
Teresa looked back and forth between Bert and the pretty ring on her hand and thought she must be emitting light from her entire body she loved him so much. It was unnerving to remember that now, at seventy-two… She had loved Bert Cousins… and then, after he left her with four small children, she had hated him with the full force of her life.
Without warning her head dropped forward and for an instant she was sound asleep. She made a small, startled sound like a dog or a pig having a dream. She sat up straight again, opened her eyes slightly to see if anyone had caught her.
That’s the trouble with being fifteen – all he can think of is what he doesn’t want.
Commonwealth was my first experience reading the masterful word craft of Ann Patchett. I was captivated and enthralled by the intricate details that wove in and out as the storyline was being expertly and cleverly constructed. I was introduced to an array of unusual, quirky, and abhorrent characters. There were so many characters that I had initially despaired I would not be able to keep them straight. However, that was never a problem as each family member was uniquely differentiated, unflinchingly and distinctly fleshed out, and interestingly described. I was fascinated by each and every one of them, although, I would not want to inhabit the same hemisphere as any of them. The majority of adults were neglectful and selfish, while the children were angry, spiteful, and ranged from overly conforming to obnoxious.
Ms. Patchett cleverly exposed the underbelly and frustrations of each family member as well as their interesting oddities and endearing characteristics. The writing was whip-smart, sneaky, and highly observant. Her magical words squeezed my heart, stole my breath, and were consistently unpredictable. It was ingenious! I have since added her name to my list of favorite authors of all time.
About Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of nonfiction. She has won many prizes, including Britain’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the co-owner of Parnassus Books.