Author: Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: General Fiction
Audiobook note: I highly recommend the audiobook! Hope Davis has this fascinating voice—equal parts smokey, crackly, and hilariously sarcastic—that makes listening to Commonwealth pure pleasure. Each character has a unique vocal fingerprint. I remember thinking while listening, “I could never have brought these characters to life in my head as well as she does.”
Is it worth reading? If you enjoy stories about family dynamics and the power of love that can transcend generations, then Commonwealth is your kind of book. Patchett is a master storyteller who knows how to write a sentence so smooth, you’ll want to stop random strangers and say, “Just listen to this!” While Patchett is perhaps best known for Bel Canto, I actually liked Commonwealth better. Don’t tell anyone.
>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<
This is my first Ann Patchett novel. I’ve seen her books around for years in libraries and bookstores, but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve started picking up “adult” novels and moving away from Young Adult.
I also have to confess—the main reason I gave it a shot was because of the cover. The book description didn’t appeal to me. But the dust jacket had this glorious texture and something about the cover design made me stop every time I walked into a bookstore.
(Yes, I’m one of those people who pick up books, stroke the cover, flip through the pages, and then repeat before finally giving in.)
And I’m so glad I did. Commonwealth didn’t disappoint.
Here are some things I loved:
Commonwealth spans over five decades, and many chapters end on a cliffhanger … and the next chapter picks up in the past or future, and you’re left dangling. I could tell from scanning Goodreads reviews that this was a major drawback for some readers. It was infuriating. But I loved it.
The story was bit of a puzzle. You only got a small piece each chapter, but by the end I can assure you (most) everything fits together.
Patchett’s writing style
Before reading Commonwealth, I didn’t know it was possible for a novel to sound like music. Each sentence flows perfectly into the next—a delight for readers and listeners.
Nothing turns me off of a book quicker than bumpy, unreadable sentences. If the plot is compelling enough, sometimes I will stick in it just to find out what happens (see my The Light Between Oceans review), but for the most part, sentence flow is a sticking point.
The fallout of broken promises
So these families are pretty screwed up.
Bert Cousins kisses another man’s wife at her daughter’s christening party for crying out loud. Their children spend the rest of their lives trying to reconcile the brokenness that seems to be the core of their existence. Their ex-spouses must find a way to move on.
Commonwealth is a story of the search for something whole and true.
It’s a harrowing reminder that our relentless search for meaning and purpose can lead us down paths we never intended to take … ultimately hurting those we love the most.
I love that Patchett doesn’t glorify Bert and Beverly’s unfaithfulness. She simply tells a story and lets the reader decide how to feel about it.
Love’s power to heal
Commonwealth could have been a really depressing story.
Instead, it’s strangely hopeful.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, sorrow, betrayal, and disappointment the Cousins/Keating families experience, Commonwealth ends with forgiveness, hope, and a deep love that transcends each person’s faults.
This is the truth Commonwealth offers us:
We are all broken. We hurt each other in selfish and cruel ways. But love has the power to transcend the ugliness in this world.
Our brokenness can be mended.