Wednesday, September 07, 2016
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
I've tried and failed to write a decent review of Commonwealth, so . . . next attempt, the old faithful self-interview. I will be interviewed by an orange, for obvious reasons.
Orange: Hello. Orange you happy to see me?
Bookfool: Hahaha, groan.
O: I know it's bad. Let's start out with the concept. What is Commonwealth about?
BF: It's about a family that is broken and blended and how the divorce, like a stone tossed in a pond, makes ripples that continue throughout the lives of those involved. It covers about 50 years.
O: What's happening when the book opens?
BF: Bert Cousins, a lawyer, shows up at the home of the Keating family. The Keatings are celebrating the baptism of their second child and neither Fix or Beverly Keating actually knows Bert, although Fix Keating, a policeman, has seen Bert in passing at the courthouse.
O: Why is Bert crashing a baptism, of all things?
BF: As I recall, he's trying to escape from his own home. He has 3 children and another on the way. He isn't so hot at being present and the baptism is just an excuse, much like going to the office on the weekend when one really doesn't have urgent work to do.
O: And, what happens that sets the book in motion?
BF: A stolen kiss that eventually leads to the divorces of the Keatings and Cousinses, and a marriage that results in their 6 children becoming family.
O: The description of the book makes it sound rather bland.
BF: I thought that was interesting, actually, the fact that a novel about a family and the reverberations of a divorce sounds pretty unappealing, especially if you're a person who prefers a plot-driven novel over a character-driven one. But, I found Commonwealth absolutely captivating.
O: And, why do you think Commonwealth grabbed you?
BF: Two reasons:
1. Things happen.
2. There's an honesty to the characterization and plotting.
O: By "Things happen," you mean that there are plenty of interesting plot points?
BF: Yes. Very little is earth-shattering. But, there's one shocking event that has a continuing impact. Otherwise, it's . . . wow, it is really difficult to describe, even in interview form. The thing about this book that makes it wonderful, to me, is that the characters and situations have what I would call the ring of truth. They're all flawed in some way and very believable.
O: Was there anything you disliked about Commonwealth?
BF: Only one small thing: in the later years, Fix has terminal cancer and it's always difficult reading about characters who are dying of cancer, since that's how I lost my mother. But, I loved the fact that Fix is cheerful in his dying days. I also thought it was a little strange that some characters are shuffled off to the side. For example, Fix remarries after he and Beverly divorce but you really never get to know Marjorie. She's described from a distance. And, yet, that didn't seem to matter; in fact, that seemed like reality in its own way. Sometimes you just know of someone without actually ever meeting them and Marjorie just seemed like one of those people. You know she has been there for years and has been a stabilizing force but without getting to know her as an individual.
O: Bottom line?
BF: Highly recommended. I loved Commonwealth. I liked the scenes, the way the characters felt like real people to me, the way the author made the mundane things like people standing around juicing oranges quite interesting. I particularly loved Franny. Of all the characters in the book, she seems to be the most central and I liked her the best. And, Fix. Maybe I was meant to like them. I liked what Franny did with the lobsters. I like the musings about life. I cannot wait to read more by Ann Patchett.
O: Well, then, I guess I'm done, here.
BF: I guess you are. Many thanks.
O: [rolls away and becomes a cat toy]
I received an advance reader copy of Commonwealth from HarperCollins and I'm jumping the gun a bit, reviewing ahead of release. It goes on sale September 13.
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