My rating: 4 of 5 stars to Ann Patchett‘s Commonwealth. I chose this book because it was about drama and relationships within a complex family, as it seemed similar the last book I had written, and it was written in a way that I hoped would align with my favorite styles: from multiple character view points but with a focus via a single character. It did not disappoint and I am glad I read the book, but I don’t think it was in my top favorite’s list.
The book is told mostly from the character of Franny Keating, but several chapters cover each of her 5 siblings (some biological, some step). Her parents divorced after her christening in the 1960s, when her mother began an affair with Franny’s father’s colleague. When the two later married, his 4 children, Franny and her sister shared a home for most of their remaining childhood years alternating between Virginia and California, living with each set of parents and new step-families. Chapters focus on different friendships and relationships, spanning 50 years of Franny’s life until the parents pass away. Readers get to watch how each sibling interprets and experiences death, marriage, parenting, careers and general comfort with life. It’s a great commentary on the everyday happenings of a family touched by different realities in the course of life.
1. Characters are vivid. With 4 parents, 6 children, countless spouses/partners and grandchildren, it’s a lot to keep up with. The author does a great job at showing who is important and who isn’t, which makes keeping track of everyone very easy. It’s a very character-driven story with lots of plot elements along for the ride.
2. Writing is good. There are a few lengthy areas with great descriptions when they are needed, and dialogue is on point. You feel like you are there with the characters.
1. Dates were a little important in this book, but they were mostly left out. Typically, when you cover 50 years of the life of 15 major characters, each chapter would have a date and location so you can follow along easily. The author chose not to include dates and jumped around throughout the 50 year period. At times, it took a few minutes to determine what was happening and in which time period. I liked this a lot, as it was different than most books like this one, but it was a little frustrating at times as I felt like I only had a piece of the puzzle and wasn’t even sure what I needed to know. It wasn’t bad, just different — and it may have been a little stronger with a little more structure in the how the book progressed.
It’s a definite read for anyone who likes family dramas, books spanning lengthy time periods, watching what happens to characters over important periods in their life, but it’s just 10 to 12 vignettes that are beautiful but don’t tell the whole story. Then again, in life, we don’t know the full story of all our friends, so this is like reading about an old friend. And that’s a good thing in my book.