The oranges on the cover recall the gin-and-orange juice frenzy that might have begun all the craziness at the christening of Franny Keating.
With “Commonwealth,” Ann Patchett tells the story of six “blended” siblings and their families over the span of nearly 50 years: Franny and Catherine Keating, and Calvin, Holly, Jeanette and Albie Cousins. Bert Cousins shows up uninvited to the christening party for baby Franny and begins an affair with Beverly, Franny’s mother, that leads to divorce (both couples), remarriage (Beverly and Bert) and the agglomeration of the six children each summer of their childhood.
Beverly and Bert, nominally in charge of the brood, find ways to absent themselves from monitoring or even structuring the children’s days, leaving the six with the freedom not only to be children but also to dabble in some chilling adventures.
Franny and Catherine visit their father, Fix, a Los Angeles police officer who remained in California, as did Bert’s ex-wife. From the stories Fix tells, Fanny pieces together life before memory. Fix is dying of cancer, and most of these conversations take place as she takes him to his chemotherapy.
As they grow older, the children variously lose touch with each other. Franny – and “Commonwealth” – finally bring them together again. She has dropped out of law school and become a waitress in a fancy Chicago hotel, where she meets a famous novelist, Leon Posen, with whom she begins a long-term affair. He not only listens to the stories of her patchwork family, he writes a novel, “Commonwealth,” in which he reveals a secret that divided and united the children: how teenage Calvin died.
After “Commonwealth” (the book within the book) is published, Albie Cousins and Franny Keating – nearly the same age and both named for their fathers – connect again, on terms that are initially rocky. They reminisce. They get in touch with the others; they attend Beverly’s annual Christmas party, to which everyone who has ever been connected to the family – children, spouses, nieces, nephews and everybody’s exes – is always invited. Life goes on. The common wealth of the Keatings and Cousinses is the shared memories, experiences, and love.
Publisher Harper Collins says of “Commonwealth, “Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, ‘Common-wealth’ 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.”
Writing in the New York Times last fall, Curtis Sittenfeld said, “This novel … recognizes that the passage of time is actually the ultimate plot.”
Others have praised the book: “…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)
“‘Commonwealth’ bursts with keen insights into faithfulness, memory and mortality… [An] ambitious American epic…” — Atlanta Journal-Constitution.