Ann Patchett's newest novel Commonwealth hits shelves on September 13th. The acclaimed author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder will delight audiences as she has done many times over. Only this time, rather than plunging the reader into a far-flung scenario of a birthday-party-turned-hostage-crisis, or navigating us through the remote Amazonian jungle in search of fertility drugs and missing persons, Commonwealth explores the far more lifelike reality of blended families, and the pain and grace that comes from relative strangers suddenly thrown together and forced to become kin. This elegantly rendered book will resonate with many people in ways that Patchett’s previous novels (amazing as they all have been…is there anything this woman can’t write?) may not have.
Commonwealth opens at the home of Los Angeles cop Fix Keating, during a Christening party for his daughter Franny that “took a turn when Albert Cousens showed up with gin.” Cousens not only crashes the party with that bottle of gin, but irrevocably sets in motion the dissolution of both men’s families. Before very long, Bert Cousens has left his wife Teresa for Fix Keating’s irresistible wife Beverly, and soon Bert and Beverly have combined their sulky band of miscreant children (six of them in total) and moved across the country to spend summers together in the Virginia Commonwealth. The book explores how one unexpected chance encounter reverberates (with ever increasing amplitude) through the lives of four parents and six children over the following five decades.
Drawing from the experience of her own blended family background, Patchett exquisitely braids each character’s storyline into the others’ and renders with honesty the complicated picture of a family grafted together, pointing to the inevitable fusing and scarring that result from the betrayals and heartbreak, but also to the alliances forged out of necessity and the bond that arises from the childrens’ shared disappointment in their parents.
Largely unsupervised during those summers in the Commonwealth, the children routinely drug Albie, the littlest (and most annoying) child, with Benadryl in order to ditch him for a while, leaving him asleep in the sun to bake for hours. And though Patchett explores each child’s story line, following each one through adolescence, emerging adulthood, and into middle age, she focuses on Franny (the second-youngest). Adrift as a cocktail waitress, Franny seeks refuge in the arms of novelist Leon Posen, her literary hero, when he sits down at her bar one night. She becomes his muse (a girl’s dream come true). Patchett writes, “He had found her life meaningful when she could make no sense of it at all.” But being a muse comes with a price. Leon Posen works the story of her childhood into a novel called, of all things— Commonwealth. When the book is converted into a movie, a fresh tidal wave of pain and recognition crashes over each family member.
Though it is unlikely that most of Patchett’s audience will identify with having their lives converted into a best-selling novel, readers will surely recognize their own families in the Keating-Cousens hodgepodge. They will wonder about the meaning and ownership of story, of family history, and will meditate from adulthood on what might have become of their own families in the absence of certain catastrophic events. In this way, Commonwealth could be the setting to any one of our childhood memories. This family could be any of our families. This story could belong to any one of us. Or maybe not. But even if this family history bears no resemblance to your own, you’ll still love reading about them; in their messy, intricate and beautiful lives, full of misery, grace and the far-reaching bonds of love.
— Ellie Scott
September 2016 Indie Next List
“Patchett leaves behind the exotic locales and intricate plots of State of Wonder and Bel Canto for an even darker and more difficult place to navigate -- the interior of a blended family over the course of several decades. While more domestic than many of her previous novels, Commonwealth offers plenty of intrigue and surprises as Patchett explores the interaction of a group of children forced into each other's lives because of their parents' impulsive choices. With keen insight, tears of both sorrow and joy, and some real -- if dark -- humor, Patchett pulls readers into this complex family's world, and we are eager for every detail.”
— John Christensen (W), Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI
#1 New York Times Bestseller
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.