We all have authors that we love and when they publish a book there is a great excitement to see what they have to offer. But then we might read some reviews and some of those reviews might claim that the latest offering is not as good as the proceeding novels, leading us to put off reading it and worrying that the reviews will be right. Ann Patchett is one of those authors for me and yet, I found Commonwealth to be a well-written novel with well-developed characters and a plot that kept me reading late into the night.
No, it wasn’t as shocking and dramatic as Bel Canto, but Patchett is not the same writer she was when she wrote Bel Canto nor am I the same reader. But Commonwealth is just as good, if not a better, a novel than her more recent offerings. (Looking back at my past reviews of her work, I note that I compare all Patchett’s books to Bel Cant0)
What I liked about Commonwealth was the exploration of family relationships complicated by divorce and remarriage and the experiences that bind those relationships that are both intimate and distant often influenced on changing external factors.
Commonwealth centers on the Cousins and Keating children. Four Cousins (two boys and two girls) and two Keating children (two girls) are thrown together for most of their childhood summers after Mr. Cousins and the formerly Mrs. Keating marry and move to Virginia from LA. Time jumps from their childhood summers into their twenties and forties, as we track the six children along with their four parents. They deal with romantic relationships, illnesses and deaths, births and the rest of life’s moments both large and mundane in the shadow of what happened one particular summer. What is most interesting is tracking the relationships that are maintained and how the assumptions of the past fade and change.
I think readers who enjoy interesting, almost human characters and a compelling story would enjoy Commonwealth, especially if they leave any expectations at the door and just enjoy this well-written novel.