//H.E.A. Book Club / Commonwealth

Hello! I am very excited to be blogging about the first selection in my husband-and-wife book club, the Happily Ever After Book Club, as we're calling it. January's selection was "Commonwealth" by Ann Patchett and it was one of my choices (we each got to select 6 books and then randomly drew them to determine the order). I have long heard of Ann Patchett and this was the first of her book I've read.

The summary on Goodreads states:

"One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together."

Okay, so to start off, this is one of those books that doesn't give you any context before throwing you into the story. You know what I'm talking about? As if you've walked into the middle of a room and there is already so much happening and you have to kind of figure out how to navigate the area. Those books always throw me off, probably because I like to be eased into that world through exposition...who knows.

The book centers around two families, the Keatings and the Cousinses. The wife of the former ends up leaving her marriage to be with the husband of the latter and this book essentially covers 50 years of the shards of the blended family, centering mostly around the children and the four parents being in the periphery. The timeline jumps a lot and every chapter had me settling back in to see where we were in the story.

That being said, the characters were all interesting. You learned enough about each of them to realize how little you liked any one of them (except for Jeanette...I had a soft spot for Jeanette). It's not that they are terrible people, it's mostly that everyone was so wrapped up in their own lives, being busy feeling sorry and/or angry for their situation, that it was so clear how selfish everyone was. This did not make me dislike the book. If anything, I may have liked it more. The lives of the six children diverged--incredibly sharply, in some cases--because of this selfishness and I was always wondering what they were up to. If you're looking for a book filled with compassion and love, this may not be your cup of tea.

I will say, this being my first Ann Patchett novel, I liked her writing. It wasn't overly "flowery" but it also wasn't bare bones and boring. She can spin a yarn, ol' Ann. The best thing about this novel was the way that the story truly unfolded bit by bit. You are able to piece together the past through little facts spouted by the characters until you get the full picture. I really enjoyed that.

There is a real sadness permeating throughout the entire novel, even during the happier moments. It's as though no one was really able to move on past that fracturing moment when one husband and one wife left their spouses for each other. They each carried that burden in their own ways and it drove some of them to uproot their entire lives and move halfway across the world. It is that sadness that I felt long after I finished reading the book, probably because it felt so real. One of the characters recounts how everything would have changed once you "unravel" the past, and it's at that point that you see, in one page, how things really spiraled down for everyone. All because of selfish and superficial reasons.

The only downside of "Commonwealth"--at least for me--was that the first 40% or so of the book was kind of boring. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little there, but it WAS pretty difficult to talk myself into finishing it. I put it off for a couple of weeks until I finally sat down to read a huge chunk at one time and it was then that I truly began to sink into the plot and enjoy the story. Perhaps the lesson from this is that this book is not one that is meant to be read in small increments. I think you lose the flow of the prose that way and it begins to get irritating, preventing you from truly appreciating the writing. Instead you need to dedicate a solid hour or so (depending on how quick of a reader you are) and let yourself get caught up in the storytelling that Ann Patchett really does well.

Overall, I would rate this book a solid 8/10.

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