Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
My dear sweet poet friend Emily chose this book for our book club this month, and it is a winner — definitely my favorite Ann Patchett book. The characters are so well-developed and real, I find myself thinking of them as so, and thinking of them often as I go about my day. I can picture them in my mind, not only how they look physically, but the hurt, love, and complexities they carry with them.
Commonwealth starts as a memory, where during a party two families collide in a way that will affect all members for decades to come. What starts as an illicit kiss, a mistake maybe, but probably not, becomes the driving force and starting point of a saga. Throughout the book, we are bounced back in time and then forward again without warning, between the characters and their separate experiences, but somehow Patchett makes it all work, and work so well, I dreaded this one coming to an end.
Commonwealth is about families, about mistakes and love and the inevitabilities of life. It is about loss and regret, but also tenderness. And there is plenty of excitement in this story. I found myself laughing out loud at a long, drawn-out scene during which Franny, one of the grown daughters and perhaps my favorite character, finds herself catering for days on end to more than a handful of unwanted, entitled guests during an attempt at a romantic summer getaway with her lover (a famous writer who plays a drastic role in the story in an unexpected way).
Patchett herself admits that much of Commonwealth is autobiographical, which adds to the interest and is perhaps why I am so drawn to this story; after all, the truth is often stranger than fiction.
I laughed while reading this book, but I also came close to tears once or twice.
I was in a coffee shop finishing the last pages when I found my eyes filling with tears at the feelings evoked by a passage of a main character recalling the loss of her son:
On the eighth day of her eleven-day visit to the Zen center, Teresa went to the morning meditation, sat down on her cushion next to Holly, closed her eyes, and saw her oldest son. He was so clear it was as if he had been in the room with her all this time, as if he had been with her in every room she’d ever been in in her life and she had simply failed to turn her gaze in the right direction until now.
These passages move and comfort me beyond measure– to think that the people we have loved who have moved on from this earth are really right there with us, in every room, in every moment, and all it takes is us turning our attention to them to feel them there with us.