Commonwealth Review

In her latest novel, New York Times bestselling author Ann Patchett searingly reveals what happens to six kids and their four parents over five decades after an unexpected romance blows two families apart. 

“Commonwealth,” Patchett’s eighth novel, opens with a John-Updike-like tease. “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.” By evening’s end, Albert has kissed the baby’s mom, Beverly. Soon Albert and Beverly are hitched and their respective children, six in all, begin to forge new bonds as step-siblings. 

Patchett accurately captures the prickly, troubling heat of summer vacation in Virginia, which brings together the California Cousins and Keating kids. The young, largely unsupervised step-siblings create their own rules as they amuse and take care of each other while Albert and Beverly do their best to avoid their active offspring. Sure the kids drink a little, swim by themselves, discover something dangerous, and even routinely drug their youngest brother to keep him quiet. So much can happen when parents choose to look the other way. There’s an accident that can’t be undone.

Patchett has admitted that Commonwealth, though fiction, draws on her own experiences. In her book, a version of the tragedy that befalls the Keating and Cousins’ families gets turned into a bestselling novel by an renowned author who drinks too much. Discovering the long buried tale in print causes the now grown kids to review, relive, and compare their versions of what actually happened.

The truth is remarkably fluid. In Patchett’s hands this wise and honest account of what binds families together despite betrayals, tragedies, and disappointments kept me turning the pages late into the night, until the novel was done.

Ann Patchett appears at the LBC tomorrow, September 22, at the LBC. Get details and ticket info here.

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