Saturday, November 25, 2017


Ann Patchett's novel, Commonwealth, was a joy to read.

At a Christening party for his youngest daughter, a man welcomes someone he does not recognize into the house.  While the guest's face is not completely unfamiliar, the dad is nearly certain that the man had not been invited.  But the dad does not toss him out and in a passive way welcomes him to the party. All that happens is that this man comes in and subsequently falls in love with the dad's wife, the mother of the child.

The book is about two families and six children.  We follow the kids and the parents and we learn about what happens with kids of different stripes.  To reveal more here is to give away the plot line.  I write little blurbs in a file when I finish all books I read.  In that file after finishing Commonwealth I wrote, "This is why we read."

In large part what engaged, almost riveted, me were the descriptions of the characters--the six, very different kids and the mothers and fathers.   At one point toward the end of the book the next to youngest--the girl whose Christening the party crasher attended--is visiting her mother and her  husband. There is a grand Christmas eve party (held not on Christmas eve).  The now young woman goes up to an assigned bedroom to escape the discomfort. There are several stepchildren and their spouses at the party whose names, in some cases, she cannot remember. Some are arguing with the others.  Having escaped to the bedroom she flops on top of the bedspread and thinks about how she got to this place. She is amused to contemplate how her life, as it has turned out, would come undone if the moorings of her past were untied.  She is lying in this strange house because at her Christening a man fell in love with her mother who left her father and because of, among other things, a bee sting, a fire, a hyperactive sibling, a famous author, and more.  If her mother's second husband does not crash her Christening, none of these matter and several would not have happened--her whole life would have been different.

One criterion I use for determining if a book is great is how long it sticks with me.  When I finished this book a week ago I thought it was great. But tonight trying to recall the details, I find that I cannot remember many. This I cannot attribute to a bad memory or excessive drinking during the holiday.  I do recommend this book, but perhaps it is not as wonderful as it was fun to read.  One warning is that there are six kids belonging to two sets of parents and there are times I had trouble keeping track of whose kids were whose.  Lots of names, and then there are friends of the kids, and friends of the parents, and sisters and brothers of the parents. Lots of names to keep track of.  Still, I remember the feeling when I was done, and that was I was very glad to have read the novel.

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