Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on September 13, 2016
Ann Patchett's new novel, "Commonwealth", surpassed my expectations and solidly earned a spot on my “Best of 2016” list. This character-driven domestic drama swept me up into the lives of the Cousins and Keating families as Patchett deftly revealed secrets and tragedies over the span of five decades. Be assured that “Commonwealth” is not without Patchett’s wry humor, after all, it IS about family.
"Commonwealth" is a novel about two families whose fates are set into motion one LA afternoon in the 1960s at a Christening party to which a large bottle of gin is brought, and ripe oranges happen to be plentiful on the neighborhood trees. If any one detail of that day had been different, so would be the lives of the two families that were set into motion like a cascade of falling dominoes. "Commonwealth" is immediately engrossing; I can't imagine reading the first chapter and not being compelled to read on. The novel floats back and forth in time and among the members of the Cousins and Keating families, specifically the six children united by their hatred of their parents. Don't let the term "domestic drama" fool you into thinking this is light fare; Patchett can do in 300 pages what Franzen does in 600 - paint a fully realized picture of family life with all its many facets: humor, despair, evil thoughts, sibling rivalry, fraught relationships, tragedies, revenge and betrayal.
Speaking of betrayal, Patchett employs a neat little conceit by having one of the characters reveal family secrets to a famous author who uses these as the basis of a prize-winning bestseller called, "Commonwealth". Several sections of the novel deal with how particular family members react to their lives being re-told and re-shaped for mass consumption. As an avid reader of family-centric novels, I wondered how often this scenario plays out in reality; I’m guessing it is often.
I've read Patchett's entire oeuvre, and no two novels are alike, yet Patchett writes convincingly in each; we don't feel she's merely researched her topics well, we feel she's LIVED them. Has she: lived in a home for unwed mothers? Been a magician's assistant, or an opera singer held captive? Has she been to the Amazon? Is she a child of divorce? Unlikely all are true, but one would be forgiven for wondering.
"Commonwealth", is one of those novels that you race to finish because you want to know what happens to characters you’ve come to care about, while at the same time you want to slow down to make it last.