Literary Hub

30 Books in 30 Days: Commonwealth

 In the 30 Books in 30 Days series leading up to the March 16 announcement of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award winners, NBCC board members review the 30 finalists. Today, NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari offers an appreciation of fiction finalist Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (Harper).

Ann Patchett’s beguiling new novel begins in a Southern California suburb where Fix and Beverly Keating are hosting a christening party for their second daughter Franny. A deputy district attorney named Bert Cousins crashes the party. He has business with the Fix, a Los Angeles police officer, and also wants some time free from his brood of three children and pregnant wife. Bert doesn’t come empty handed; he shows up with a bottle of gin. After several boozy hours, Bert impulsively kisses Beverly, and many lives begin to unravel.

Two marriages end, and six step-siblings are left unmoored. At first they shuttle between parents, gathering for summers in Virginia. Then one vacation adventure leads to tragedy, and one son’s death. Everyone in the blended family carries this scar forward, but for the children it’s particularly painful because of the secrets they share. In a seamless, vibrant narrative Patchett reveals the consequences of an impulsive act over five decades. In her mid-twenties Franny shares the story of her family’s tragedy with her lover, Leo Posen, an award-winning author. He appropriates her tale for a novel, which ultimately becomes a film seen by most of the family members.

Betrayals, forgiveness and the shifting intensities of family connections are at the heart of this brilliantly structured and riveting novel—a book Patchett, winner of the Orange Prize for Bel Canto, has called her most autobiographical yet.

Originally published in Literary Hub.

Related Interests

More from Literary Hub

Literary Hub7 min read
On Victor Hugo’s Posthumous Career as a Religious Prophet
Ask a French reader about the legacy of Victor Hugo and you might get an answer strikingly different from an American rundown of works that have been adapted for Broadway and Disney. You might hear instead about Les Contemplations, a well-respected,
Literary Hub6 min read
The Ways in Which Writing May or May Not Resemble Sex
Setting the Mood When I was younger, I wrote at my desk, a gracious Mexican affair bought in a first-sight passion. The seat was hardwood, ambitious. Many an essay has this desk to thank for its existence, as does my son; it’s where I measured out my
Literary Hub5 min read
Whatever Your Classroom, Please Teach More Living Poets
“Get poetry into the high schools!” Shortly before he died in 1963, Robert Frost told Marie Bullock, founder and president of the Academy of American Poets, that not merely poetry, but poets belonged in schools. She started the “Poets in the Schools”