I’ve only read one of Ann Patchett’s books before this, and I enjoyed Bel Canto. I thought it was well-written and the kidnapping plot kept me invested until the very last page. Last year, my book club read State of Wonder and I just couldn’t get into it. That very same book club chose Commonwealth for their September book. I didn’t go to the meeting, but I put my name on the library list, and it took FOREVER for it to be my turn. The librarian told me that she hasn’t seen such a popular books in ages, so I was excited.
And now I’m done with it, and I’m not as excited as I was. In fact, I’m not really sure how I feel. A little bit mad, I think.
In short, Commonwealth is a very well written book about a bunch of horrible people that I hated who do awful things and then have to live with the memories of everything that happened in their pasts.
If that isn’t enough for you, I”ll expand a bit.
Commonwealth begins with policeman Fix and his gorgeous wife Beverly celebrating the christening of their baby, Frannie, sometime in the mid-1960s out in Los Angeles. They have a huge party filled with neighbors, and cops, and family, and a random district attorney who heard about the party and felt like getting away from his wife and kids for a few hours. His name is Bert and he shows up at the party with a giant bottle of gin.
And then everyone’s life spins out of control. From here on out, I have no choice but to drop some spoilers. I’ll try not to give away much that isn’t in the Amazon blurb…
Bert and Beverly fall in love, get married, and try to blend their families. They move to Arlington, VA with Beverly’s two daughters, leaving Bert’s four kids with his wife behind in LA.
Bert is a huge asshole and Beverly isn’t much better. She can’t deal with Bert’s kids when they come to visit every summer (and I don’t really blame her, but MY GOD, SHES THE WORST STEP MOTHER EVER). And Bert conveniently disappears whenever any parenting is to be done, which leaves these six kids to figure out life for themselves.
The kids have some fun adventures, but they also experiment with guns, drinking, and drugs, all while they are still in elementary school. Needless to say, none of this ends well.
This book made me feel like I deserve some sort of award for being a normal mother.
Years later, Frannie has an affair with a John Irving-esque author, who writes his next big novel based on Frannie’s family and her supremely messed up and tragic childhood. This novel turns into a movie, and slowly but surely reminds all of the characters about the crazy life they have led. And about how awful and fucked up they all are.
Seriously. They are awful. The only one I liked was poor Jeannette, who everyone thought might be brain damaged. She ended up in a happy marriage with lovely children, so good for her.
All of this awfulness goes on for years and years, until Fix and Beverly and Bert and his ex-wife Teresa are all in their 80s and the kids are mostly grown up with families of their own. Some more screwed up than others, for sure, but all of their lives still tainted by the events that took place at that christening party years before.
Yes, this book is extremely well-written. Ann Patchett is a gifted author for sure. I just hated all of the characters and all of their actions. I hated everything about this book, and yet, I couldn’t put it down. The momentum of the story was impossible to ignore, I needed to know what was going to happen next, even if the thought of it made me cringe.
This book has won 9 billion awards and has amazing reviews everywhere. Just not right here.