Commonwealth, Ann Patchett, author; Hope Davis, narrator

commonwealthSometimes, a cataclysmic event is preceded by the most unlikely circumstances. The auspicious day that this occurred was the occasion of the christening of Franny Keating. Fix Keating’s house was filled with family, a family populated by police officers, when a gate-crasher arrived unexpectedly, but they graciously received him. Albert Cousins, the deputy District Attorney was an uninvited, unwanted guest who wanted desperately to escape his own house with his burgeoning family and the chaos it brought with it. He had three children with a fourth on the way, to eventually become his namesake. His wife Theresa was left behind to take care of the hearth and home as he knocked on the door of the Keating’s home and changed all of their lives forever.

Fix Keating was married to Beverly, a woman admired by all for her beauty and competence. A chance kiss in the kitchen, between Beverly and Albert while they were both inebriated, brought about the change that would alter all of their lives. An affair began between them which led eventually to divorce and the ultimate blending of their families. How those families thrived and survived, over several decades, is the subject of this novel. Although it begins with the christening, it often moved into different time periods with the exploration of the momentous occasions that shaped each of their lives going forward, sometimes using their memories, with a backward glance.

The tale revolved around the child celebrated on the day of the christening, Franny Keating, and her soon to be born step brother, Albert Cousins. When Franny had a chance encounter with a famous, but quickly fading from fame author named Leon Posen, who was twice her age, it set in motion an affair which lasted several years.  His career was jump started again with the publication of his first successful book in a long time. It was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, but this book turns out to be the story of the Cousins and Keating lives over several decades, as it was confided to him by Franny, in their many intimate moments. To Leon, it was a novel he created, but to the family, it was an exposé.

This story is about a family in flux. The reader will become entangled in their growing pains as they all mature and suffer the indignities of life, the pain and suffering of loss, illness and death as well as the joys of life, relationships and success as time necessarily moves them along. The story was engaging and will hold the reader’s attention as the bittersweet moments are revealed. Blending a family is not easy, in reality or on paper, but the author did an admirable job of detailing the effects of divorce on the spouses and the children. Each of them had to come of age in a different time, different place and different way. Often, there was little supervision and the children had to raise themselves, replete with sibling rivalry, fibs they told to save themselves, feelings of betrayal because of circumstances beyond their control, and behavior that was sometimes abominable. However, the pervasive constant in the novel was the love they had for each other which nothing seemed to curtail or alter as years passed. That in itself was a surprise that sometimes stretched credibility.

The book was narrated well, but the events that moved back and forth in time causing me to feel that I was dropped into a scene without proper preparation, at times, coupled with the many names of characters that often left me in a quandary, led me to recommend a print book for this one, and I also recommend that the author include a family tree in future printings because it was hard to keep track of which child belonged to which family and which wife was whose, since some married multiple times and they all had extended families, friends and partners.

The characters were not always very likeable as their personalities were examined and as the author showed the far reaching unexpected consequences of that chance encounter on the day of Franny’s christening. At some times, although the book seemed confusing as the story developed, in the end, all of the loose ends were woven together very neatly as the deliberate misdirections of the author were clarified. The author has stated in interviews that this book has many moments in it that were drawn from her own life experience.


About omasvoice

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