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Commonwealth Hardcover – July 13, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Goebel's third novel (his first was The Anomalies), a tepid satire of contemporary politics in Middle America, hinges on Blue Gene Mapother, the heir to a vast fortune who prefers hocking his old toys at a flea market. After a mutual four-year estrangement, his family reaches out to Blue Gene, hoping to give his older brother John's congressional bid credibility among working men. Initially reluctant, Blue Gene is swayed by John's conservative beliefs and moves back home to begin campaigning full-time. It isn't until he meets Jackie Stepchild, a substitute teacher and revolutionary rocker, that he begins questioning John's motives. A serendipitous meeting with his former nanny leads Blue Gene to uncover a dark family secret and he quits the campaign. Spurred on by Jackie's leftist outlook—as well as his growing attraction to her—Blue Gene cashes in on his inheritance and opens up Commonwealth, a communal enterprise providing free services to the town's middle-class citizens. An abundance of homosexual slurs and profanity detracts from Goebel's crisp storytelling, and the uninspired spoof of red states feels stale. (July)
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"Wickedly ingenious...Goebel s ebulliently funny writing sparkles off the page. He s created a whole living, breathing world, filled with vividly sympathetic souls, and deliciously evil ones...one of the most interesting and engaging books I ve read in a while, a smart, witty, deeply moving parable..."
Boston Globe

"This novel, a pointed commentary on the media machine that continuously grinds away at our culture, is by turns hilarious, thought-provoking, chilling, and sad. Goebel is a quirky, fresh, and relevant voice for our time."
Library Journal STARRED review --Boston Globe Library Journal

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 511 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage (July 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596922796
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596922792
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,955,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
For a novel that sets out to satirize and illustrate the assorted sillinesses of the American class system, from the blow-your-mind wealthy to the -blow-your-mind poor, the reach of "Commonwealth" exceeds its grasp by a long stretch, but don't let that stop you from giving this book a shot.

Blue Gene Mapother comes from old money, and wants none of it. Having never felt accepted by his family, he soon moves into a trailer and finds a semblance of happiness selling toys at a flea market after the local Wal-Mart he was working at closed down. Soon, though, his brother John, a recovering addict, decides to run for Congress, and the Mapother family, each with their own motives, decides to work as hard as they can to get him elected. Blue Gene reluctantly agrees, until he meets a punk rock singer who opens his eyes to what's going on around him, and Blue Gene's awakening is the meat of the story.

For stories like this to work as comedy of manners, you need one sane and sympathetic character at the center who reacts the way the reader would. Joey Goebel's attempts to have Blue Gene serve as that character don't really work.

He's a fascinating character; the one thing immensely wealthy and immensely poor people have in common is that the rest of us never really see them, and that blind spot seems to suit Blue Gene just fine. But he's not a fully multidimensional human being, and neither is anyone else in the book.
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Format: Paperback
(This review originally appeared at Oxyfication [DOT] net)

The inherent danger with a politically grounded novel is the potential to read the book as an author's manifesto. There is a desire for the reader to take a Rhetorical Critic's stance on the text and interpret every politically-backed statement as the author's personal belief. And with this danger comes the potential to polarize audiences. Joey Goebel's third novel, Commonwealth, is weighed by this dynamic, however he has the storytelling chops to move beyond treatise territory and deliver a great story, helped, not hindered, by the political setting.

Commonwealth follows the Mapother family black sheep, "Blue Gene" Eugene, as he slowly morphs from passive flea marketer and Wal-Mart enthusiast to aggressive philanthropist with communist leanings. Blue Gene, willing dissident in regards to his family's unfathomable fortune, adopts a working class lifestyle far removed from his wealthy family. This tension is only heightened by his brother, John Hurstbourne Mapother's, campaign for a congressional seat. As the novel progresses, pandering for votes becomes not-to-far removed from pandering for familial affection, which forces the Mapother family into devastating conflict.

Though Blue Gene is mostly a caricature of the "red neck" conservative right, much of the conflict deals with the narrator's unexpected struggle with these "red state" ideals as seeded by the novel's love interest, the elfin-faced Jackie Stepchild, female lead of the anti-establishment punk band Uncle Sam's Finger.
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Format: Hardcover
In my opinion this book has it all: phenomenally written, deep, moving story, important, relevant themes insightfully rendered and humor and sadness that often hit at the same time. The book haunted me for days once I closed its last page, which is always the mark of a great piece of art.

The most important part of this book is how thoughtful it is. I think in a nation politically polarized it's easy for us to write the other side off as imbeciles, to lose touch that the opposition are actually our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our fellow human beings. Goebel could have easily taken the superficial road and made the right-wingers in this novel out to be morons and yahoos and made us all guffaw wildly at their expense. But instead he treated his subjects with thoughtfulness and complexity and empathy and yet still managed to make us laugh.

I can personally work myself up to pure hatred when I think about republican politics, I can even at rare times feel dehumanizing to our poorest set who seemingly vote against their own economic interests in the name of "moral issues", but Commonwealth makes you feel more accepting of the people behind the political views. The author makes you feel like you could even go share a beer with a right winger and it's going to be okay. You'll be able to connect with them as people. When you leave the novel you have a sympathetic understanding of all the characters and all their motivations... Goebel shines a big light into why they are the way they are and you come to understand that they're not bad people at all.
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