Family as Fiction: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Family as Fiction: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

What it must be like to read your family history, presented as fiction.

Can you even imagine, turning the page on the past, only to have one of the darkest incidents of your life retold in a bestselling novel?

So it goes for the Cousins’ kids in bestselling author Ann Patchett’s latest, “Commonwealth.” Set in both past and present, Patchett weaves together the tale of the Cousins and the Keatings, two families forever intertwined when two parents kiss at little Franny’s christening party.

Commonwealth is a quiet drama—the kind where you can totally immerse yourself into the surroundings. Close your eyes and the christening/cocktail party comes to life, because Patchett does an exquisite job of filling in the details. In those opening pages, the narrative for the novel unfolds, with Fix Keating at the center, as circumspect as those that surround him, from his own wife Beverly to party crasher Bert Cousins … even the priest is in a dangerously thoughtful mood.

The wary tone evolves into present day with grownup children looking both backward and forward into their lives, and it’s a grown up Franny’s budding relationship with a once famous author that results in a childhood crisis playing out on paper. For where there were six children then, there are five now. And of those five, there’s Albie, forever altered by an event during which he played no role, but carries the blame.

It’s the rare—really rare—person that escapes childhood without at least one regret. A moment for which you desperately wish for a mulligan. Some kids grew into an acceptance of the role they played in the tragedy. Others ran. Even as far as Europe. And in the end, there’s still Fix and Beverly and Bert and Theresa. And a kiss that shouldn’t have counted, but instead spun the family in a different direction than perhaps originally intended in some parallel universe. It’s a whole bunch of “What if?” but in the end, a captivating family drama.

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