This Novel Mirrors the Author’s Life
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Commonwealth opens with two families, Bert and Teresa Cousins and their soon-to-be four children, and Fix (short for Francis Xavier) and Beverly Keating and their two children. Bert falls in love with Beverly, and sets two divorces in motion plus the blending of the six children into a family group.
Patchett follows these ten people over the course of fifty years. As you can imagine, there are many permutations of people she could write about, and part of the fun for book clubs will be to decide why she chose the specific stories she includes here as opposed to telling different ones. For instance, I want to know how and why Beverly fell so hard for Bert that she was willing to break up two families over it. (He seemed quite the jerk to me.) Unfortunately, Patchett does not write such a chapter. The chapters she does write – a total of nine – could almost stand alone as short stories, and I enjoyed them all though I had hoped for a stronger ending. The one given did not tie up all loose ends, but with ten main characters in the story, that would be a difficult task to pull off. Actually, I’m not sure what a great ending would look like. This is another good question for book clubs to discuss.
In researching the book, it was interesting to learn that Commonwealth has autobiographical elements. It mirrors the story of Patchett’s parents’ divorce and her subsequent life with a stepfather and step-siblings. It puts an interesting lens on the book to know this. For instance, my favorite part of Commonwealth was when Teresa sent her four kids to visit her ex-husband for the summer, but neglected to send them with luggage. It’s great fiction, but I sure hope it happened in real life! What a great move for a jilted wife!
Two questions for you:
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- Like books by Patchett? Here’s what I wrote about her book, The Dutch House.