REVIEW: COMMONWEALTH, BY ANN PATCHETT

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The story begins at a christening in an LA suburb. It especially zeroes in on a person who has crashed the party. Bert Cousins, from the DA’s office, seems oddly out of place in this party mostly populated by cops and their wives and children.

He doesn’t even bring a gift for the baby (Frances, the daughter of Fix and Beverly Keating). Just a large bottle of gin.

This man will go on to turn all their lives upside down. Yes, he had help from some of the other characters, but without actions he has taken, all of their lives would have been different.

Commonwealth is a fascinating story of dysfunctional families that carries the reader from the 1960s to the present. We don’t follow the characters in a linear style, but move back and forth. Sometimes we are swept backward by a character’s memory that takes us there. And sometimes we are catapulted back by events.

I was especially drawn to Fix Keating and his daughters, Caroline and Franny. But as we move along this circuitous pathway to follow each of their journeys, we see how the non-linear style works for the story. More information is yielded with each backward turn. And suddenly we are seeing some of the characters reconnect in unexpected ways as the story comes to its ending. And we are offered another glimpse into the Cousins family, a peek that we did not see before.

How does Franny’s young adult relationship with an author named Leon Posen change the trajectory of their lives…again? How has Caroline controlled the narrative of tragic events that brought sadness and loss to the families? Why does Albie, Bert’s youngest, seemingly drive the story in a new direction? In one Christmas that Franny spends with her mother Beverly and another of her husbands, with his grown children, she ponders the various connections by marriage. She maps out all the ways the future would unravel without the moorings of the past. The “what ifs” in their lives keep her mind spinning.

From LA to Virginia, with side journeys to Chicago and Manhattan, we see families with all their tarnished history, struggling to maintain broken bonds, even as time marches on, forcing them to face their mortality. Can they stay true to what connects them, even when they are in disarray? Will their core truths bring them peace? I loved this book, and the more I thought about it, and as I wandered along the strange pathways with the characters, I knew that I would be thinking of it for a long time. 5 stars.

cropped again 5***

THE POLITICS OF INHERITANCE: TREACHERY, BETRAYAL, & UNCERTAINTY — A REVIEW

 

As head of the vast empire of Deravenels, Edward is in a very powerful position. But the politics of inheritance involves a lot of treachery. And sometimes the treachery comes from within the family.

Constantly watching his back, Edward is also torn between his wife Elizabeth and his mistress Jane. In their world, mistresses are quite common. The fact that Edward only has one mistress is something he is quite proud of.

An heir is always uppermost in his mind as the outside forces of influenza, tragic accidents, and uncertainties threaten to leave him without one. Fortunately, in the early twentieth century, Edward has changed the rules of inheritance for his company by allowing a woman to also be named heir. This important detail will determine the future of his company, since he has many daughters. Protecting his sons is still important, but not as crucial as it once was.

One of my favorite things about this author’s books is her ability to show the reader the lush world of privilege through her descriptions that lead the reader right into the gorgeous rooms. And her characters have many privileges, including city homes and country homes. She also shows us the innermost thoughts and dreams of each of them, adding to our investment in their lives.

What I did not enjoy about The Heir was the rather snail’s pace of the first part of the book. In the first almost 400 pages, the period 1918-1928 was in the spotlight. Then the author took us quickly to 1970, leaping over more than forty years and featuring the grandson of Edward Deravenel and his quest for an heir. By the time he made his appearance, I was still caught up in the treachery of the early twentieth century. Taking such a quick pace at the end of the book left the reader without enough time to really know and care about the character Harry Turner. However, I enjoyed many portions of the book, and recommend it for fans of Barbara Taylor Bradford. Three stars.