Do you remember the book, Bel Canto, that came out like 15 years ago? It was amazing, right?! Strangers locked together in a hostage situation. I couldn’t put it down. Author Ann Patchett won the Penn Faulkner Award and I thought it was brilliant. Not only was it real, elevated writing, but it had a captivating plot. These two are not always synonymous, are they?!
I have a list of books to read, whose titles I keep hearing and seeing everywhere. One of these books was Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett. I knew her name, but I could not remember what else she had written until I heard her interviewed on NPR. In fact, I was halfway through the novel before realizing it was my old friend, Ann, from Bel Canto.
“Exquisite… Commonwealth is impossible to put down.” (New York Times)
The writing is literary and beautiful and the characters complicated. Her narration skips around in time with the assumption that her reader is smart enough to keep up. And we are. It starts with the christening of a baby and introduces an affair that ultimately breaks up a family with a large number of children. These kids are often left to their own devices and this leads to an unfortunate event that shapes the family dynamic, that is already broken, the kids’ adulthood and their perspective on their world.
Ann says this about her novel,
“What I’ve realized is that all of my books have been the same book,” she says. “I write a book that is about a group of people who are pulled out of one family or situation and dropped into another one in which they are not familiar, and then I see how communities are formed. It’s Lord of the Flies. It’s The Magic Mountain, it’s The Poseidon Adventure.”
In an interview on NPR, she said that she wanted to write a life to death book, but could not capture it in one character. She does manage to write the christening of a baby to the death of another character and in this, the book feels like it has really moved through a period of time, an era of a family. Like most families, the relationships are complicated and this is where I really appreciate her writing. Nothing about her characters is easy or straighforward, in fact, they mirror real life.
If you are on Goodreads, follow me and I’ll follow you! I gave Commonwealth 5 stars on Goodreads (PS, Goodreads is a great site where you can see what your friends think of books and get great reviews and suggestions). Thank you, Ann Patchett, for giving us a book that was beautifully and fully written as well as an authentic story.