What can I say? I just love Ann Patchett. I would love her for her descriptions of time and place, for her impeccable timing of events, and for the rhythm of her prose – even if I didn’t also love her for her subject matter, which I do. My first book of hers was State of Wonder. It was one of the first audiobooks I listened to, and the reader was amazing. The same reader, Hope Davis, reads Commonwealth, and adds a skillful dimension to this book.
Commonwealth is about family and the many shapes and forms it takes. It is a dense novel – lots of characters, lots of things going on, lots of issues. But it is absorbing, which was exactly what I needed as a distraction from politics. The story follows the lives of four adults and six children, from the 1960’s to the present, moving forward and back and forward again in time, in a way that should be confusing but isn’t. As a writer myself, I am in awe of Patchett’s skill in this. She paints characters who are fully realized and memorable, and layers them into a gripping story that needs no villain. The page-turning element comes from the twist and turns in the lives of these characters, about whom I came to care deeply.
My only annoyance? The publisher’s hype refers to a kiss at a christening party between one man’s wife and another woman’s husband, that sets “into motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.” I kept waiting through that first scene for a sudden upheaval caused by the kiss, but it never came. The kiss was only one of many precursors of the story too come. The hype-quote is a marketing line, but it gives short shrift to the depth in the book.
Training its sights on blended families and why we do what we do when life throws us a curve, Commonwealth captures today’s world. I’ve already found myself comparing people and events in real life to those in this book. Talk about a book staying with you …