Ann Patchett has been on my list of should-read authors for a long time. I finally decided to jump in with her most recent release, Commonwealth.
Bert and his wife have four children. Fix and Beverly have two daughters, including Franny. Bert and Beverly have an affair, their marriages dissolve, the children suffer–but perhaps not as much as they would have had the initial marriages survived.
This is contemporary dysfunctional family drama elevated by strong characterizations and fine writing. Rather than dwelling on the affair, the story follows the families in the aftermath, particularly the life of Franny. The children grow up spending summers together and a bond develops among them. There is sickness, troubled youth, and tragedy. The reason their story transcends the ordinary is that Franny meets and falls for a well-known author. Leon Posen is many years older and an alcoholic. He fears his best years are behind him; however, the beautiful young Franny serves as his muse by recounting some of the stories of her youth. He writes them into a novel. The book becomes a prize-winning bestseller. Though he changes names and some details, Franny’s family members find their faults and mistakes on display for all the world to see.
And life still goes on.
This is an absorbing story, peopled by realistic characters who elicit, in turn, irritation and empathy. While I doubt novels from the contemporary dysfunctional family drama genre will ever rank among my favorites, I am more determined than ever to read Bel Canto.