I’ve been wanting to read Ann Patchett for a long time, and Commonwealth is the first novel I actually got my hands on. From what I understand in reading the reviews, this is a bit different from some of her other novels, at least in setting.
This is set in suburban Virginia — the Commonwealth of Virginia — and involves two families whose lives become intertwined after Bert Cousins shows up at co-worker Franny “Fix” Keating’s party for the christening of his second daughter. When Bert meets Fix’s wife Beverly, he feels something for her and knows his life has changed. Bert and Beverly deciding to be together doesn’t just change their life, but the 6 children in the two families. This is basically their story.
I enjoy character-driven fiction, and this novel definitely falls into that category. It was a slow start for me, and it wasn’t until about a 1/3 of the way in that I felt the need to keep going. The beginning in particular has a very bleak and factual tone. I didn’t connect to the characters, and I certainly didn’t like them. I read novels with unlikable characters all the time, because that is the reality of the human condition.
Ultimately this is a novel of the human condition, following children over decades (maybe 50 years or so? This is actually one of my issues with the novel is that I never felt I truly understood where we were in time). It’s told in a non-linear way, so we piece the story together, as we find out what has bonded and divided them over the years, and how their childhoods have affected who they have become as adults.
Patchett is a great writer. That’s one thing I know for certain after my first experience reading her work. Though it didn’t grab me immediately, it was definitely an ultimately satisfying read. The characters have stuck with me. I think that I will read another of her novels when I’m in the mood for good literary fiction.
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