“Isn’t that what everyone wants, just for a moment to be unencumbered?”
Commonwealth, Ann Patchett’s newest novel, is a complicated, uncomfortable, heartbreaking work of art. I hate to gush here, but she’s a damn genius (Bel Canto and State of Wonder are among my favorites, if you’re a Patchett newbie). This book got under my skin, and honestly I had to take a couple of breaks from it as I was reading. Occasionally I found the urge to close the Kindle and go cleanse my palate with some Keats or well, anything less taxing. I appreciated the sprawling timeline and distinctive characters very much, while never actually falling in love with the book.
The story is about two families, the Cousins and the Keatings, and the impact and fallout of a messy affair, which intertwines the four adults and their collective six children over the next five decades. We follow them as they come together and break apart and witness the bond the children share, experiencing events as through their eyes.
One of the children, Franny, begins a relationship with a well known author while in her twenties, and the story she tells him becomes the basis for his next book. This forces everyone else in the story to relive their story as it is now told, and not as they have processed and forgotten it.
What I love about Patchett is that she is not afraid – at all – to write her characters with deep painful flaws, and she is equally ready to redeem them and forgive those flaws. This is what I mean about uncomfortable. Honestly I have enough uncomfortable in my life right now, so perhaps I should have waited to read this when things were simpler. It was heavy and painful and lovely all at the same time, and I am not totally sure why. Certainly Bel Canto and also Run contained heavier subject matter, but I never felt that I was being pulled under water reading those as I did here. Perhaps for me… wrong place and time, with full appreciation for the beauty of the words.
Grade – B