Commonwealth: A Novel

Commonwealth: A Novel

by Ann Patchett

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Overview

“Exquisite... Commonwealth is impossible to put down.”
   — New York Times

#1 New York Times Bestseller | NBCC Award Finalist | New York Times Best Book of the Year | USA Today Best Book | TIME Magazine Top 10 Selection | Oprah Favorite Book of 2016 | New York Magazine Best Book of The Year

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.

Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal

close obervation, deadpan humor… Chekhov regularly invoked

The New Yorker

Emotionally lucid. . . . Patchett is at her lyrical best when she catalogues the jungle.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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

O: the Oprah Magazine

Wonderful… Patchett is a master storyteller

Newsday

Patchett’s slyly knowing voice - full of wit and warmth - elevates every page of this novel - one that, through the alchemy of her writing, somehow feels more than the sum of its parts.

Houston Chronicle

Patchett gives us funny, flawed characters, and the rich reward of Commonwealth is seeing their lives unfold…

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.

New York Times

Exquisite... Commonwealth is impossible to put down.

San Francisco Chronicle

The genius of the way Patchett approached Commonwealth is that it’s constructed like a puzzle… Maybe it’s another case of the tried-and-true adage: “Write what you know.” Because this book? It’s pure gangbusters.

Los Angeles Times

Reading Commonwealth is a transporting experience… It feels like Patchett’s most intimate novel and is without doubt one of her best.

USA Today

splendid new novel… Just try to stop reading. And you won’t want to. Patchett is in stellar form.

Roanoke Times

Patchett’s insight into the practical and emotional impacts of uprooting families is impressive... candid, poignant, humorous...

BookPage

Commonwealth is an all-American family saga, but her touching and even-handed approach to themes such as family politics, love, the role of literature and the acidic nature of lies is buoyed by a generous sprinkling of matter-of-fact humor

Entertainment Weekly

… the emotional intelligence of Patchett’s storytelling here feels warmer and richer and more resonant than anything she’s done before.” Rating: A

New York Times Book Review

(A) rich and engrossing new novel …

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

moving, beautifully crafted novel…

Seattle Times

Spinning ordinary lives into literary gold

Hampton Sheet

Commonwealth represents yet another victory for Patchett. Readers will fly through it... the tale is so rich and the plot is so wildly addicting, readers won’t be able to put it down until they’ve turned the final page.

Kansas City Star

Commonwealth is a sly book about storytelling, a story about a single incident - really two pivotal incidents - spun out over the length of a narrative constructed like a conversation but encompassing decades.

Knoxville News-Sentinel

…to create a story with 10 protagonists that spans 50 years - and at least five settings spread across the globe - is a balancing act that requires immense narrative skill, and Patchett never falters.

O: the Oprah Magazine

Wonderful… Patchett is a master storyteller

Pop Sugar

Commonwealth is a smart, thoughtful novel about the ties that bind us.

Spokesman Review

Ann Patchett’s moving, beautifully crafted novel

Dallas Morning News

Ann Patchett’s gifts are more clear than ever in Commonwealth

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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

Wall Street Journal

close obervation, deadpan humor… Chekhov regularly invoked

Marie Claire

Wonderfully executed…

Asheville Citizen-Times

Surprising, nuanced, complex and, above all, genuine.

The New Yorker

Emotionally lucid. . . . Patchett is at her lyrical best when she catalogues the jungle.

Boston Globe

Extraordinary. . . . Is there nothing the prodigiously talented Ann Patchett can’t do?

Christian Science Monitor

a wry, compassionate tale

Washington Post

Patchett’s storytelling has never seemed more effortlessly graceful. This is minimalism that magically speaks volumes…

Woman's Day

I couldn’t put down Ann Patchett’s terrific new novel…

Flavorwire

[A] memorable, modern novel

The Barnes & Noble Review

Ann Patchett is drawn to the often unexpected bonds people form in unusual circumstances. Many of her novels are predicated on what might be called the Magic Mountain syndrome, which she described succinctly in an essay in her 2013 collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage: "a group of strangers are thrown together by circumstance and form a society in confinement." In Bel Canto, high-profile guests attending a lavish birthday party for a powerful, opera-loving Japanese businessman in South America pair off in unanticipated combinations when they are held hostage. In State of Wonder, a team of research scientists in pursuit of a missing colleague and a miracle fertility drug in the Amazon rain forest find themselves relying on each other in new ways in the heart of darkness. And in Commonwealth, her most autobiographical novel to date, six stepsiblings from two broken marriages are thrown together during court-mandated summer vacations in Virginia, forming a surprisingly tight-knit "fierce little tribe." The children, four girls and two boys, are united in part by their shared disillusionment with the two parents whose affair instigated the implosion of their original families. But after the oldest boy dies during one of their unsupervised escapades, they drift apart — yet remain forever linked by their uneasy sense of guilty complicity.

Commonwealth opens with another classic narrative catalyst: the uninvited guest. On a hot June Sunday in the 1960s, Beverly and Francis Xavier (Fix) Keating throw a christening party for the younger of their two daughters, Franny. Because many of the attendees are Fix's fellow cops from the Los Angeles Police Department, "half the party was armed." The afternoon takes a turn when an uninvited guest shows up bearing a bottle of gin. The interloper is Bert Cousins, a deputy DA, who is on the lam from weekend daddy duty with his three kids. From the moment he spots beautiful Beverly Keating he's smitten. Unlike his pregnant wife, Teresa, Beverly has kept herself up and is dazzling in her yellow dress. Bert notes enviously that "Fix Keating had fewer children and a nicer watch and a foreign car and a much-better- looking wife" — all this despite the fact that "The guy hadn't even made detective." Before the party is over, he will have kissed the hostess and set in motion a chain of events that will reverberate over the next five decades.

There have been early glimpses of the personal story behind Commonwealth in Patchett's work. The title essay in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage addresses the author's long family history of failed marriages and the generational "flotsam" from divorce — which led to Patchett's early decision not to have children. It also contributed to two prominent themes in much of her work, including Commonwealth: commitment, and the importance of compassion to get through life. Both were factors in Patchett's late, happy second marriage, which took her by surprise.

There is no shortage of great literature about the fallout from divorce and the reconfigured families that children are left to cope with. (Martha McPhee's Bright Angel Time, featuring a motley gang of stepsiblings under the sway of a charismatic guru- like stepfather, springs to mind as another example of what in today's world of intensely focused parenting seems like carelessness if not outright neglect.) Commonwealth stands out on many levels, from its assured handling of complex time shifts to Patchett's extraordinary compassion even for seriously flawed characters like Bert. Her deeper sympathies clearly lie with Bert and Beverly's two betrayed spouses, saintly Teresa Cousins and warm Fix Keating, who eventually find happiness with kinder partners. They also benefit from the tag-teaming care of their grown children in their final years. "What do the only children do?" Franny Keating asks her sister after a difficult eighty-third birthday outing with their dying father. "We'll never have to know," Caroline answers. In fact, Commonwealth — like Patchett's essay "The Wall" — can be read in part as a love song to her father, who, like Fix, was a detective with the LAPD.

Patchett's gift for characterization and empathy extends to each of the six children, from smart, bossy Caroline, who pleases both her father and stepfather by becoming a lawyer, to wayward Albie, Bert's youngest, who is most affected by his older brother's death, for reasons I'll leave for readers to discover. If there's a hole in her narrative, it's Beverly, who remains a void beneath the surface of her multi-husband-catching glamorous looks.

Franny Keating is the linchpin of the novel. While her christening party is ground zero for Beverly and Bert's ultimately doomed relationship, it's Franny's childhood memories — confided to a famous washed-up writer she meets while working as a barmaid in Chicago after dropping out of law school — that change the thrust of Patchett's book. This narrative line, while initially jarring, ultimately elevates Commonwealth above your usual broken-home saga. When Leon Posen channels Franny's stories into a wildly successful novel (also called Commonwealth), she is torn between her happiness about her role in his comeback and her serious misgivings about the propriety of having divulged family secrets.

Although Posen's behavior is somewhat monstrous — he's a married drunk thirty-two years older than Franny who milks her devotion and lack of direction — Patchett resists demonizing him. Franny and Leon's relationship was "built on admiration and mutual disbelief," she writes, and Franny "was the cable on which he had pulled himself hand over hand back into his work: she was the electricity, the spark . . . And more than that, he had found her life meaningful when she could make no sense of it at all." Yes, "She had made a terrible error in judgment," Patchett writes with typical judiciousness, but "he had turned it into something permanent and beautiful."

Yet among all the troubling aspects of their relationship, the "nail in the tire" turns out to be Franny's anguish over having betrayed her primary bond with her extended family. She realizes the gravity of her transgression when her estranged stepbrother turns up, horrified after coming across a copy of Posen's novel and recognizing himself in its pages.

It's worth stepping away from Patchett's absorbing narrative to realize that she is after something extraordinary here: In a novel based loosely on her own disjointed childhood — the closest to home she's ever come in her fiction — she is raising questions about the propriety of going public about such shared, private experiences. Who owns the story? Who has the right to turn it into a book that will sell thousands of copies and be read by strangers?

Although in Patchett's scenario Franny doesn't actually write Commonwealth, she feels guilty for having shared what wasn't hers alone, enabling Leon Posen to capitalize on it. Patchett, however, has written a version (presumably heavily fictionalized) of her family's story in this novel. And as she did in Truth & Beauty, a searing memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, she has incorporated into her art her compunctions about telling a story that isn't entirely hers to tell. In an age where so little is sacrosanct, this is remarkable.

Heller McAlpin is a New York–based critic who reviews books for NPR.org, The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.

Reviewer: Heller McAlpin

The New York Times - Jennifer Senior

…Ann Patchett's exquisite new novel…spans over 50 years, and the stories of how these children move uncertainly into adulthood—and how their parents adjust to the misfortunes that accrue—are painfully beautiful. (I went from bristling to weeping at 3 a.m.) Escaping the cage of your childhood can be one of the sublime miracles of growing up, though it sometimes requires more tools than the average jailbreak…The questions Commonwealth raises are ultimately counterfactual, philosophical: Who might we be if our parents hadn't made catastrophic choices, and we hadn't responded catastrophically to them? Maybe better-adjusted people with easier days and nights. But maybe the poorer for it.

The New York Times Book Review - Curtis Sittenfeld

…rich and engrossing…In delineating the casual blend of irritation and unsentimental affection among family members of all ages, Patchett excels…[Her] language is generally plain but occasionally soars satisfyingly; her observations about people and life are insightful; and her underlying tone is one of compassion and amusement. If Commonwealth lacks the foreign intrigue of Bel Canto or State of Wonder, both of which took place in South America and contained more suspense, this novel…recognizes that the passage of time is actually the ultimate plot. As anyone who has attended a high school reunion knows, people themselves don't need to have been doing anything particularly interesting in order for their lives to generate interest, so long as you run into them at infrequent enough intervals. Patchett also skillfully illustrates the way that seemingly minor, even arbitrary decisions can have long-lasting consequences and the way that we often fear the wrong things…Ann Patchett is a novelist who knows what she's doing, and to read her is to feel that you're in good hands.

Publishers Weekly

★ 05/09/2016
Patchett (State of Wonder) draws from personal experience for a funny, sad, and ultimately heart-wrenching family portrait: a collage of parents, children, stepchildren, siblings, and stepsiblings. In 1960s California, lawyer Bert Cousins divorces Teresa, leaving her to raise their four children alone; Beverly Keating divorces Fix, an L.A. cop; and Bert and Beverly marry and relocate to Virginia with Beverly and Fix’s two children. Visiting arrangements result in an angry, resentful younger generation—rebellious Cal, frustrated Holly, practical Jeannette, littlest Albie, bossy Caroline, kind-hearted Franny—spending part of summer vacations together. Left unsupervised, Cal takes charge, imitating grown-ups by drinking and carrying a gun, until a fatal accident puts an end to shared vacations. Patchett follows the surviving children into adulthood, focusing on Franny, who confides to novelist Leo Posen stories of her childhood, including the secret behind the accident. Twenty years after that conversation, middle-aged with children and stepchildren of their own, Franny and Caroline take 83-year-old Fix to see the movie version of Leo’s novel about their family. Patchett elegantly manages a varied cast of characters as alliances and animosities ebb and flow, cross-country and over time. Scenes of Franny and Leo in the Hamptons and Holly and Teresa at a Zen meditation center show her at her peak in humor, humanity, and understanding people in challenging situations. What’s more challenging, after all, than a family like the Commonwealth of Virginia, made up of separate entities bound together by chance and history? (Sept.)

Washington Post

Patchett’s storytelling has never seemed more effortlessly graceful. This is minimalism that magically speaks volumes…

Pop Sugar

Commonwealth is a smart, thoughtful novel about the ties that bind us.

Marie Claire

Wonderfully executed…

Knoxville News-Sentinel

…to create a story with 10 protagonists that spans 50 years - and at least five settings spread across the globe - is a balancing act that requires immense narrative skill, and Patchett never falters.

San Francisco Chronicle

The genius of the way Patchett approached Commonwealth is that it’s constructed like a puzzle… Maybe it’s another case of the tried-and-true adage: “Write what you know.” Because this book? It’s pure gangbusters.

Houston Chronicle

Patchett gives us funny, flawed characters, and the rich reward of Commonwealth is seeing their lives unfold…

New York Times Book Review

(A) rich and engrossing new novel …

NPR

The book is serious, but also so pleasurable that you hope it won’t end.

Kansas City Star

Commonwealth is a sly book about storytelling, a story about a single incident - really two pivotal incidents - spun out over the length of a narrative constructed like a conversation but encompassing decades.

Flavorwire

[A] memorable, modern novel

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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

Wall Street Journal

close obervation, deadpan humor… Chekhov regularly invoked

Newsday

Patchett’s slyly knowing voice - full of wit and warmth - elevates every page of this novel - one that, through the alchemy of her writing, somehow feels more than the sum of its parts.

Asheville Citizen-Times

Surprising, nuanced, complex and, above all, genuine.

Curled Up - Luan Gain's Review

Patchett cuts to the heart of existence in the age of divorce

Roanoke Times

Patchett’s insight into the practical and emotional impacts of uprooting families is impressive... candid, poignant, humorous...

BookPage

Commonwealth is an all-American family saga, but her touching and even-handed approach to themes such as family politics, love, the role of literature and the acidic nature of lies is buoyed by a generous sprinkling of matter-of-fact humor

Spokesman Review

Ann Patchett’s moving, beautifully crafted novel

Dallas Morning News

Ann Patchett’s gifts are more clear than ever in Commonwealth

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

moving, beautifully crafted novel…

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.

The New Yorker

Emotionally lucid. . . . Patchett is at her lyrical best when she catalogues the jungle.

Seattle Times

Spinning ordinary lives into literary gold

Woman's Day

I couldn’t put down Ann Patchett’s terrific new novel…

New York Times

Praise for State of Wonder:
“An engaging, consummately told tale.

The Entertainment Report

Patchett brings every character in Commonwealth to luminous life.

USA Today

splendid new novel… Just try to stop reading. And you won’t want to. Patchett is in stellar form.

Boston Globe

Extraordinary. . . . Is there nothing the prodigiously talented Ann Patchett can’t do?

Curled Up - Michael Leonard's Review

[An] achingly real tale

Read It Forward

a family drama with a hint of metafiction at its heart.

the Oprah Magazine O

Wonderful… Patchett is a master storyteller

Chicago Now.com

a captivating family drama

Coastal Illustrated

Wryly humorous, intensely moving... this domestic novel is a book to savor from one of our finest writers

Hampton Sheet

Commonwealth represents yet another victory for Patchett. Readers will fly through it... the tale is so rich and the plot is so wildly addicting, readers won’t be able to put it down until they’ve turned the final page.

Los Angeles Times

Reading Commonwealth is a transporting experience… It feels like Patchett’s most intimate novel and is without doubt one of her best.

Entertainment Weekly

Patchett’s storytelling here feels warmer and richer and more resonant than anything she’s done before.

Christian Science Monitor

a wry, compassionate tale

USA Today

splendid new novel… Just try to stop reading. And you won’t want to. Patchett is in stellar form.

San Francisco Chronicle

The genius of the way Patchett approached Commonwealth is that it’s constructed like a puzzle… Maybe it’s another case of the tried-and-true adage: “Write what you know.” Because this book? It’s pure gangbusters.

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.

Kansas City Star

Commonwealth is a sly book about storytelling, a story about a single incident - really two pivotal incidents - spun out over the length of a narrative constructed like a conversation but encompassing decades.

Washington Post

This is surely the smartest, most exciting novel of the summer.

Woman's Day

I couldn’t put down Ann Patchett’s terrific new novel…

|Los Angeles Times

Reading Commonwealth is a transporting experience… It feels like Patchett’s most intimate novel and is without doubt one of her best.

Library Journal

09/01/2016
Bert Cousins, a deputy DA in Southern California, takes a break from the claustrophobia of his home (three kids, including a baby, and a pregnant wife) and crashes the christening party for Franny, the baby of Fix Keating, a cop he barely knows. By the end of the day, drunken Bert has kissed Keating's beautiful wife, Beverly, thus setting in motion five decades of the two families reconstituting a time or two. The six children form uneasy bonds with one another and their various imperfect parental figures. Franny unwittingly blows open the heart of these messy alliances when a chance meeting with Leo, a famous, much older author, leads to a long love affair and a betrayal when Leo writes a blockbuster version of Franny's life story, made more raw by the death of one of her stepbrothers. VERDICT Award-winning author Patchett brings humanity, humor, and a disarming affection to lovable, struggling characters who soldier on with decency despite the handicaps of their disrupted childhoods. Irresistible. [See Prepub Alert, 3/7/16.]—Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2016-06-01
Two families are fused, atomized, and reconfigured by a stolen kiss, a child's death, and a bestselling novel.In her seventh work of fiction, Patchett (This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, 2013, etc.) turns from the exotic locales and premises of Bel Canto (2001) and State of Wonder (2011) to a subject closer to home: the evolution of an American family over five decades. The story begins on a very hot day in Southern California at a christening party for Beverly and Fix Keating's second daughter, Franny. A lawyer named Bert Cousins shows up uninvited, carrying a bottle of gin. With its help, the instant infatuation he conceives for his stunning hostess becomes "the start of his life." After Bert and Beverly marry and move to Virginia, the six newly minted stepsiblings are dragged unhappily into new relationships and settings. On another hot afternoon, one of the children dies from a bee sting—a tragedy compounded by long-kept secrets and lies. Jumping ahead, we find Franny in her late 20s, having an affair with a Saul Bellow-type novelist 32 years her senior. "Other than the difference in their ages, and the fact that he had an estranged wife, and had written a novel about her family which in its final form made her want to retch even though she had found it nothing less than thrilling when he was working on it, Franny and Leo were great." Since Patchett comes from a blended family with the same outlines as the one in this book, the problems created by Leo's fictionalized family history, also called Commonwealth, are particularly intriguing. The prose is lean and inviting, but the constant shifts in point of view, the peripatetic chronology, and the ever growing cast of characters will keep you on your toes.A satisfying meat-and-potatoes domestic novel from one of our finest writers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780063037625
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/06/2020
Series: Harper Perennial Olive Editions
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 178,883
Product dimensions: 4.50(w) x 7.12(h) x 0.92(d)

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