When Ann Patchett’s posts on Musing became spaced months and months apart, I knew she was up to something. It’s hardly worth being bummed about infrequent blog posts from your favorite author when you suspect that the woman has locked herself in her house to write something much bigger and much better than a blog post. Finally, last spring, it was announced- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett would be on sale September 13, 2016! It’s been 6 days since its release and I’ve already read it twice- it’s that good!
Typically the first novel an author writes is the most autobiographical; instead, Ann’s first novel was about a home for unwed mothers. I saw an interview during which Ann said she wanted to go back and write an autobiographical novel, now that she was in her 50s, and that is exactly what she did.
None of it happened and all of it’s true. -Jeanne Ray
The book starts out at a baptism party for a baby in which an unwanted guest brings gin, things get crazy, and there is a kiss between two people who should not be kissing. The story follows the baby from her baptism party until she is 52 moving seamlessly throughout time delving into the world of divorce, blending families and grown children of divorced parents.
Other reviews have described the movement of time in the novel as “fluid” which is, in fact, the best way to describe the masterpiece Ann Patchett has created. Ann’s is just one of many novels that jump back and forth in time however the passage of time is just that in other books- jumpy. I’ve not read another book that managed time quite so well and it was, indeed, fluid and made the novel that much more beautiful. There are glimpses into lives at various points along the way and the reader is left to fill in the missing years on their own- a task that is quite enjoyable and effortless.
She had needed to keep something for herself.
Another aspect that I enjoyed was the presence of books throughout the novel. I’ve always loved books about books and while this was not one of those novels, there were countless books name dropped throughout the novel. Books were often used to assist the various characters during difficult times. There is nothing more comforting than a good book read at the right time and this message was made quite clear.
Life, Teresa knew by now, was a series of losses. It was other thing too, better things, but the losses were as solid and dependable as the earth itself.
Finally, I loved that this book talked about places familiar to me. Part of it took place in Chicago and Evanston, both places I’ve resided in while just starting out as a special education teacher. I cracked up as I read about where I currently live described as “the parts that aren’t Chicago” which is a common view of Illinois- Chicago and cornfields. I imagine Ann is somewhat familiar with where I live since she dated David Foster Wallace who lived not far from here although I’m not certain if he lived here while they were dating. Regardless, it’s always a fun bonus to be able to visualize from your experience the places being written about in novels.
You can debate about your favorite Ann Patchett book all you want, perhaps you liked the plot better in another novel, but no one can argue against this being her best written novel. Each novel is stronger than the novel before and allows her talent to be showcased at an even higher level. I’m so grateful that this novel exists as it fills a hole that exists in literature. So many individuals will be able to see themselves inside of this masterpiece so read it and tell me what you think!
***I own a signed copy***