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Commonwealth: A Novel Paperback – May 2, 2017
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This month's Book With Buzz: "The Silent Corner" by Dean Koontz
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Praise for Commonwealth:
“Patchett brings humanity, humor, and a disarming affection to lovable, struggling characters... Irresistible.” (Library Journal)
“Exquisite... Commonwealth is impossible to put down.” (New York Times)
“(A) rich and engrossing new novel …” (New York Times Book Review)
“Indeed, this is Patchett’s most autobiographical novel, a sharply funny, chilling, entrancing, and profoundly affecting look into one family’s “commonwealth,” its shared affinities, conflicts, loss, and love.” (Booklist)
“…a funny, sad, and ultimately heart-wrenching family portrait…Patchett elegantly manages a varied cast of characters…[Patchett is] at her peak in humor, humanity, and understanding people in challenging situations.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“The prose is lean and inviting…A satisfying meat-and-potatoes domestic novel from one of our finest writers.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“Wonderfully executed…” (Marie Claire)
“Commonwealth is a smart, thoughtful novel about the ties that bind us.” (Pop Sugar)
“Commonwealth is an all-American family saga, but her touching and even-handed approach to themes such as family politics, love, the role of literature and the acidic nature of lies is buoyed by a generous sprinkling of matter-of-fact humor” (BookPage)
“Commonwealth bursts with keen insights into faithfulness, memory and mortality… [An] ambitious American epic…” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
“Patchett’s storytelling has never seemed more effortlessly graceful. This is minimalism that magically speaks volumes…” (Washington Post)
“Commonwealth represents yet another victory for Patchett. Readers will fly through it... the tale is so rich and the plot is so wildly addicting, readers won’t be able to put it down until they’ve turned the final page.” (Hampton Sheet)
“The genius of the way Patchett approached Commonwealth is that it’s constructed like a puzzle… Maybe it’s another case of the tried-and-true adage: “Write what you know.” Because this book? It’s pure gangbusters.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“moving, beautifully crafted novel…” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
“Commonwealth is a sly book about storytelling, a story about a single incident - really two pivotal incidents - spun out over the length of a narrative constructed like a conversation but encompassing decades.” (Kansas City Star)
“splendid new novel… Just try to stop reading. And you won’t want to. Patchett is in stellar form.” (USA Today)
“… the emotional intelligence of Patchett’s storytelling here feels warmer and richer and more resonant than anything she’s done before.” Rating: A (Entertainment Weekly)
“close obervation, deadpan humor… Chekhov regularly invoked” (Wall Street Journal)
“Patchett gives us funny, flawed characters, and the rich reward of Commonwealth is seeing their lives unfold…” (Houston Chronicle)
“a wry, compassionate tale” (Christian Science Monitor)
“…to create a story with 10 protagonists that spans 50 years - and at least five settings spread across the globe - is a balancing act that requires immense narrative skill, and Patchett never falters.” (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
“Reading Commonwealth is a transporting experience… It feels like Patchett’s most intimate novel and is without doubt one of her best.” (Los Angeles Times)
“Wonderful… Patchett is a master storyteller” (O, the Oprah Magazine)
“Spinning ordinary lives into literary gold” (Seattle Times)
“[A] memorable, modern novel” (Flavorwire)
“Ann Patchett’s gifts are more clear than ever in Commonwealth” (Dallas Morning News)
“Ann Patchett’s moving, beautifully crafted novel” (Spokesman Review)
“Patchett’s storytelling here feels warmer and richer and more resonant than anything she’s done before.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Patchett’s slyly knowing voice - full of wit and warmth - elevates every page of this novel - one that, through the alchemy of her writing, somehow feels more than the sum of its parts.” (Newsday)
“Surprising, nuanced, complex and, above all, genuine.” (Asheville Citizen-Times)
“I couldn’t put down Ann Patchett’s terrific new novel…” (Woman's Day)
“Patchett’s insight into the practical and emotional impacts of uprooting families is impressive... candid, poignant, humorous...” (Roanoke Times)
“a captivating family drama” (Chicago Now.com)
“Patchett cuts to the heart of existence in the age of divorce” (Curled Up - Luan Gain's Review)
“[An] achingly real tale” (Curled Up - Michael Leonard's Review)
“a family drama with a hint of metafiction at its heart.” (Read It Forward)
“Patchett brings every character in Commonwealth to luminous life.” (The Entertainment Report)
Praise for State of Wonder:
“An engaging, consummately told tale.” (New York Times)
“Emotionally lucid. . . . Patchett is at her lyrical best when she catalogues the jungle.” (The New Yorker)
“This is surely the smartest, most exciting novel of the summer.” (Washington Post)
“The book is serious, but also so pleasurable that you hope it won’t end.” (NPR)
“Extraordinary. . . . Is there nothing the prodigiously talented Ann Patchett can’t do?” (Boston Globe)
“Wryly humorous, intensely moving... this domestic novel is a book to savor from one of our finest writers” (Coastal Illustrated)
From the Back Cover
One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows among them.
When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.
Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.
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Top Customer Reviews
"Commonwealth" is a novel about two families whose fates are set into motion one LA afternoon in the 1960s at a Christening party to which a large bottle of gin is brought, and ripe oranges happen to be plentiful on the neighborhood trees. If any one detail of that day had been different, so would be the lives of the two families that were set into motion like a cascade of falling dominoes. "Commonwealth" is immediately engrossing; I can't imagine reading the first chapter and not being compelled to read on. The novel floats back and forth in time and among the members of the Cousins and Keating families, specifically the six children united by their hatred of their parents. Don't let the term "domestic drama" fool you into thinking this is light fare; Patchett can do in 300 pages what Franzen does in 600 - paint a fully realized picture of family life with all its many facets: humor, despair, evil thoughts, sibling rivalry, fraught relationships, tragedies, revenge and betrayal.
Speaking of betrayal, Patchett employs a neat little conceit by having one of the characters reveal family secrets to a famous author who uses these as the basis of a prize-winning bestseller called, "Commonwealth". Several sections of the novel deal with how particular family members react to their lives being re-told and re-shaped for mass consumption. As an avid reader of family-centric novels, I wondered how often this scenario plays out in reality; I’m guessing it is often.
I've read Patchett's entire oeuvre, and no two novels are alike, yet Patchett writes convincingly in each; we don't feel she's merely researched her topics well, we feel she's LIVED them. Has she: lived in a home for unwed mothers? Been a magician's assistant, or an opera singer held captive? Has she been to the Amazon? Is she a child of divorce? Unlikely all are true, but one would be forgiven for wondering.
"Commonwealth", is one of those novels that you race to finish because you want to know what happens to characters you’ve come to care about, while at the same time you want to slow down to make it last.
Here's what I liked:
1. The writing is excellent and has Patchett's flair
2. Some of the story turns were compelling and could have merited an entire novel on their own.
3. The title has special meaning within the story.
4. The cover art ties into the story.
Here's what I didn't like:
1. The organization of the novel - the chronology - is a HOT MESS. I don't know why authors like to reveal stories in a crazy, non-linear order. I always felt a story should unfold for the reader. In this book, the first chapter is followed by a chapter that is somewhere in the future (I'm guessing about 30 years later). There are no year headings on the chapters so you have to read a while to try to figure out who's who and what's what and when that chapter is taking place.
2. There are too many main characters...two sets of parents/step-parents, four children from one family and two children from another. I found it hard to keep them apart (especially with the constantly shifting timelines).
3. Characters (and plot lines) and presented, then dropped, then (maybe) picked up again...but maybe at a different time in the story.
4. The reader is misled in some cases. For example, in one chapter one of the children dies and the reader is led to believe of one cause. Many chapters later you will find out the cause is something else entirely.
5. Some of the children in the story disappear (or briefly appear or re-appear) after a while leaving me feeling the book was unfinished.
So...I didn't love it or hate it. But it is hard for me to give a Patchett novel only three stars.
This is a character driven book rather than a plot driven one. It unfolds in a non-linear way, sometimes referring to events that we don't know about yet, and then circling back to fill in the gaps. I liked piecing the jigsaw of what happened and what everyone's story was together. I also really liked Ann Patchett's passing asides about things. She has a wonderfully descriptive way of mentioning something you've never given a lot of thought to, but making you think: "yes! that's exactly how it is!".
While I enjoyed this very much, it was ultimately a little too aimless for me: hence the four star rating.