Summary and book reviews of Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth

by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Book Summary

The acclaimed, bestselling author - winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize - tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families' lives.

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.

Excerpt
Commonwealth

The children were seated across the aisle from one another, the boys on the left and the girls on the right, and each was given a set of junior airman wings, which only Cal refused to wear. They were glad to be on the plane, glad to be free of direct supervision for six hours. As much as they hated to leave their mother—they were unquestionably loyal to their mother—the four Cousins children thought of themselves as Virginians, even the youngest two, who had been born after the family's move west. All of the Cousins children hated California. They were sick of being shoved down the hallways of the Torrance Unified School District. They were sick of the bus that picked them up on the corner every morning, and sick of the bus driver who would not cut them a break, even thirty seconds, if they were made late by Albie's dawdling. They were sick of their mother, no matter how much they loved her, because she had on occasion cried when they returned ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How is each child—Cal, Caroline, Holly, Jeanette, Franny, and Albie—affected by the divorce and neglect that results?
  2. What does it mean to become a family again in the wake of divorce? How does each child grow to respond to the family difficulties?
  3. In what ways are the siblings good for and to each other?
  4. Bert believes that his divorce, all the difficulties for the children, and his marriage to Beverly were inevitable. "We're magic," he says to her. In what ways might this be true? To what extent does romantic love justify their decision?
  5. What influence did the time periods, especially the '60s and '70s, have on the behavior and decisions of the characters?
  6. What's added to the novel by the presence ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Though not told in chronological order, the story unfolds organically, each chapter building to the climax. And if it weren’t for the fact that all her books enjoy the same organic quality I might credit that to Commonwealth's autobiographical inspiration. But Patchett just seems to know all of her characters so intimately, and they move in a world we recognize and say things we might given similar circumstances. Even their bad decisions – and there are many here – make sense at the time. She is a master who can create passages that will be with you for the rest of your life.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review (607 words).

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Media Reviews

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Commonwealth bursts with keen insights into faithfulness, memory and mortality… [An] ambitious American epic…

Booklist

Indeed, this is Patchett’s most autobiographical novel, a sharply funny, chilling, entrancing, and profoundly affecting look into one family’s “commonwealth,” its shared affinities, conflicts, loss, and love.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] funny, sad, and ultimately heart-wrenching family portrait…Patchett elegantly manages a varied cast of characters…[Patchett is] at her peak in humor, humanity, and understanding people in challenging situations.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The prose is lean and inviting…A satisfying meat-and-potatoes domestic novel from one of our finest writers.

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Beyond the Book

Ann Patchett

Ann PatchettAnn Patchett has said that her book Commonwealth, more than any of her others, is autobiographical. It seems close given what we know about her life from various sources.

The bare bones information is that she was born on December 2, 1963 in Los Angeles to nurse-turned novelist Jeanne Ray and Los Angeles police officer Frank Patchett. She has one older sister. Her parents divorced and her mother remarried, moving to Nashville, TN – Patchett's current home – when Ann was six years old. The marriage came with four additional step siblings.

Parnassus BooksShe is the survivor of twelve years of Catholic education and credits the Church, its teachings and nuns with being a tremendous influence – for good and ill – over her life ...

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