I love a sweeping novel, and Commonwealth takes us from the christening of Franny Keating to her middle age, dipping into the lives of her parents, step-parents and step-siblings along the way. While a lot of time is covered, Patchett doesn’t get bogged down explaining how characters reach points in life, putting faith in the intelligence of her reader to make the mental leaps. We see only the first kiss of Bert Cousins and Beverly Keating’s relationship – a few pages later they are married, splitting their two families and creating a new one.
Franny is the main character, and her romance with writer Leo Posen is given more time than any other relationship outside the family. But Patchett manages to treat all the Keatings and Cousins with equal grace and patience. The novel moves effortlessly between characters, offering each a point of view and for many a redemption; just as Franny and Caroline grow to forgive their mother for leaving their father, so does the reader come to see Beverly – initially appearing distant, disinterested in parenting – in a new light. Following these people through the turmoil and tragedy of their lives and watching them emerge out the other side stripped of bitterness and resentment, the reader is left with a profound sense of the importance of the people we love.
Although the story begins at the beginning of Franny’s life and finishes roughly fifty years later, covering half a century in the character’s lives, the structure is not chronological. At times the jumps forward and backwards in time combined with the changing points of view between characters could be jarring, but Patchett handles these shifts with such skill; as a reader, you’re content to be taken along for the ride.
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