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.

©2016 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Lovely! I have had this on my tbr since decided I will read all of AP's books and I never really knew what it was about. I am sure I will like it.

    1. Now you know! :) I've got to read more Ann Patchett. I brought home State of Wonder from the library but didn't get to it in time - checked it out too close to vacation and had to return it. I'll have to give her a second go, soon.

    2. I remember reading this review and so I am right in thinking (yesterday) that you might have read it. But it took till today to check. I loved it. I'll tell you that again in a letter you'll receive soon but prolly after turkey.

    3. Yep, you were right! I'm glad you loved it. I thought it was wonderful. Not long ago, I was talking about it with someone and it surprised me that I remembered Fix's name. I guess he was even more memorable than I realized. Will be looking forward to your letter!

  2. I started this the other night and had to set it aside for deadline reading, but can't wait to pick it back up again--I'm already hooked! (And I only skimmed your review, mostly to find out whether you liked the book.) I've read Patchett's fiction before, but it's been a while...and she's still got it.

    1. I set it aside for a few days, too, but had no trouble picking it back up and missed it while it was set aside. Funny. It's definitely a book that I found hard to put down, although I'm not even sure why. I guess it's because I cared about the characters. It's oddly gripping for a family drama.

    2. Forgot to say that I always warn about spoilers. The review/interview is deliberately vague because I liked the way things unfolded and didn't want to ruin them for anyone.

  3. I know I've said it before but I love these interview reviews. This one sounds like I need to read it. I love both character and plot driven books and this one sounds perfect.

    Loved that your orange rolled away to be a cat toy. I bet it's happy.

    1. Thanks, Jenny. This one didn't seem to work as well as the others at getting to the heart of what I liked about the story but I think that's because I still don't entirely know. LOL It always helps me get a grip on my thoughts, though, to do the interview format.

      I tend to think I don't like character-driven books but there've been several that I really liked, this year, so maybe it just depends on how well they're done. I was definitely impressed with Patchett's writing.

      I have very happy oranges, of course. Cats, too. :)

  4. Love the orange interview. :)

    1. Thanks! I thought it was funny that a journalist rolled an orange to Hillary Clinton on her plane, yesterday (with a question written on it). Yesterday must have been the Day of the Orange. :)

  5. As you know I set my copy aside, but after reading your review, I plan to pick it up again. Soon! Glad it was a winner!

    1. Can't wait to hear what you think, Les!


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