Monday, October 24, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

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.

This is the story of two ordinary families whose lives intersect when Bert Cousins, a district attorney, shows up uninvited at the christening party of the daughter (Franny) of one of the precinct’s cops, Fix Keating. Bert crashes the party for an excuse not to have to spend time with his own family, children who annoy him and a wife who bores him. Fix is not pleased to see him. However, Bert is thrilled to make the acquaintance of Fix’s gorgeous and incredibly shallow wife, Beverly. The thrill is mutual.

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.


  1. I have this one, but haven't got to it yet. I enjoyed Bel Canto, and absolutely ADORED State of Wonder. So if you're thinking about another Patchett...

  2. I have yet to read Bel Canto, but as everyone says it his her best, I plan to get around to it sooner or later. Of the ones I've read, I think that State of Wonder is my favorite; its setting and plot make it stand out in my mind. Commonwealth is very good, but I found myself wanting to throttle some of the characters on a regular basis.