Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

2016 Limelight Reviews
General Fiction

It appears that, yet again, I have stumbled upon an author I feel I ought to have already known about. This is especially with true for Ann Patchett and her latest novel, Commonwealth. which deals with a dysfunctional family (I think I have previously mentioned that this is my preferred genre of books!). On reading online about the author, she started her literary career writing for Seventeen magazine – a magazine that I admit devouring from cover to cover in my youth, and obviously not paying any attention to any of the contributors.

However, that aside, I really rather enjoyed this novel. Starting in the 1970s running through to present day, it follows the story of the Keatings and the Cousins – two families whose lives become intertwined when their families blend.   The book follows the lives of the 6 children as they grow up and as their parents grow older.

Sibling rivalry, between the two sisters (Franny and Caroline) and the challenges of the four siblings in the Cousins family make for an intense read. It makes me think about how parenting (especially parenting in blended families) has changed. Some of the stories of what the 6 of them got up to would make most parents have a heart attack!  But I love how the author developed the characters growing into themselves and how their relationships changed with each other over the years.

Most of the narration is from Franny, the youngest of the two sisters. Franny begins a romance with once-famous novelist Leon Posen, after she has left Law School and is working as a cocktail waitress. Whilst with Leon she tells him stories of her life and family, which Posen uses to write his come-back novel, named Commonwealth. As a result of the novel he writes, and the secrets that it reveals, all the stories of the 10 people in this blended family are tied together. Perhaps not exactly secrets, but things not talked about…

Ann Patchett has a great way of writing her story – she alludes to things before they have been fully revealed, and they are not always what you think they are going to be. It kept me riveted, and whilst I did not like all the characters, could relate to the family dynamics and loyalty to each other.

Find Commonwealth by Ann Patchett in the SMSA Library Catalogue


Kathy Sale
SMSA Library Coordinator