Friday, September 09, 2016

Like rings through an oak tree: COMMONWEALTH.

CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems like a fairly regular day in Southern California: the day of young Franny Keating's christening party. When her father, Fix, opens the door, he's surprised to see Albert Cousins there. Fix, a cop, doesn't associate much with the DAs on his beat, and he certainly didn't invite Bert. But Bert has shown up with a bottle of gin--looking to hide from his own wife and children--and he soon joins the party, making drinks with Fix's beautiful wife, Beverly. By the end of the evening, Bert and Beverly have kissed, triggering a chain of events that will alter the lives of all involved.

This is an expansive book, covering the lives of the intertwined Cousins and Keating families in a series of almost interconnected stories. They are linked, of course, and form the framework of Packer's novel, but almost seem as if they could stand on their own. They are also set against the backdrop of another Commonwealth: when Franny, then in her twenties, meets famous author Leon Posen, she tells him the many stories of her misguided family. He spins them into the tale of his novel, Commonwealth, forcing the family to face up to some of their most awful losses and decisions in the starkness of print.

Some of the chapters of COMMONWEALTH aren't always particularly exciting, but they are poignant, and there is a deepness to them. They offer an amazing insight into these families-- an almost "behind the scenes" look at five or so decades of their lives. The varying viewpoints of the narrators helps as well, and you can watch a Cousin or Keating child age in just a couple of chapters. It's also interesting to watch the spouses--so changed by the affair--and how it's affected their lives.

Overall, this is a lovely book, tender in many ways, and a little heartbreaking. It's not a page-turner, but it's beautiful and leaves you thinking.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere on 9/13/2016.

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