Why we love it: Mention Ann Patchett to anyone and the response is always the same: “I love Ann Patchett!” She’s long been known as one of America’s great writers with such gems as Bel Canto and State of Wonder, but Commonwealth might just be her best yet.
It starts with the Christening party of Franny Keating, daughter of cop Fix and the drop dead gorgeous Beverly. It’s a day that goes haywire when father-of-almost-four Bert Cousins, arrives alone, uninvited and with an inappropriate present – a large bottle of gin. What transpires at the party kick-starts a whole chain of unforeseen of events as two families ultimately blend.
It’s the elaborate, moving story of the Keating and Cousins children, of their childhoods navigating their blended families, visiting divorced parents and stepparents on different sides of the country. How they are touched by tragedy and why, even though there are many reasons for them to blame themselves and their parents for the things that go wrong, ultimately events just happen and we can’t always control them.
Then, when Franny Keating grows up and drops out of law school she meets a famous novelist, Leon Posen. She’s flattered that someone as illustrious as he is interested in her life but she has no idea that it may one day come back to haunt her. And it does.
Commonwealth is a novel that really took our breath away. It’s about how life can go in directions that we never could have dreamed of. It sweeps over the children’s different lives so that the wonderful narrative moves easily from suburban Los Angeles to Brooklyn, even to a glamorous literary party scene on Long Island that recalls scenes from Fitzgerald. Ironic that it’s also about mining life for art as in Leon Posen’s novel – because this is one of Patchett’s most autobiographical yet with obvious elements of her own life. Patchett had a catholic schooling like the Keating girls, her dad was a cop like their dad and her parents divorced resulting in her move from Los Angeles to Nashville as a child. This is a truly brilliant book and we can’t recommend it highly enough.
Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of non-fiction. She’s been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction three times; with The Magician’s Assistant in 1998, for State of Wonder in 2012 and winning the prize with Bel Canto in 2002. She is also the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She is the co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, Karl, and their dog Sparky.