Commonwealth by Anne Patchett
Having read this book, it’s decided.
Anne Patchett has earned a seat at my ‘in-my-dreams dinner party’. You know the one? The dinner party you’d host if you could invite anyone living or dead – the legends, those you love, have crushes on, wish desperately were your friends. That one.
She’d be joined by Lily Brett, Nora Ephron, Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Lena Dunham and as I am currently reading (and loving!) Amy Schumer’s new book, her too. Yes, all gals, and surprise, surprise all writers, but given it is my fantasy dinner party, I’d be asking Keanu Reeves to serve our dinner and Barack Obama to do the cooking so that evens the gender thing out a bit.
Anyway fantasies aside, Anne Patchett has written a winner. I fell in love with her work when I read The Patron Saint of Liars and she does not disappoint with Commonwealth. There is something so beautiful about her words – the characters bounce off the pages and you are caught – hook line and sinker – from page 1.
Commonwealth is essentially a story about siblings surviving together when their families are torn apart by infidelity and loss. We begin in 1964 when Bert Cousins arrives at Franny Keating’s christening party – uninvited, bearing a large bottle of gin – and there he meets Franny’s breathtakingly beautiful mum, Beverly. One kiss is all it takes to rip two families apart and create a new blended family with a gaggle of Cousin and Keating kids.
Fast forward to 1988 and Franny is working in a bar where she serves her literary idol Leo Posen…her story becomes his and then it becomes the world’s and the family must deal with their history being played out in a book, then, even worse, a movie.
Actually, I should hold up a bit.
I used the word ‘surviving’ when I described them earlier on but I don’t think it is the right one. It creates a sense of broken souls and while they are, like all of us are in some way, they are not all lost. That is not all they are. They find their way, sometimes together and sometimes apart but courtesy of Patchett’s magic, each character and their choices are given the respect and individual attention they deserve.
The kids are ‘children of the 60s’ and for those of us who were around then – or nearly, you know what that means. They were utterly free and unobserved so got up to all sorts of no-good away from their prying parent’s eyes (new millennium parents might use the word neglected). While I was more a child of the 70s, I remember those times – being told to be home before dark and to not venture too far from home on your bike. If you are one of us, you’ll read their escapades with a mix of joyful remembrance and anticipated horror – particularly when one of the worst things that can happen, actually does.
Patchett weaves together beautifully a detailed and complex tale that has lots of different characters. No two are similar, no life the same, but they are connected by a story that runs deep with family sorrow, sibling love and at the end of the day, loyalty.
I loved Commonwealth and I think you will too. Everyone so far is raving about it so no doubt you have either picked it up or it is on your list. Good ! You won’t be sorry.
But you may just be disappointed that Anne can’t join your fantasy dinner party because she will never want to leave mine – I mean Barack is cooking for us after all.
And that is my 2 cents worth.