One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.
When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.
Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together. (Goodreads)
My first impression toward this book was: atmospheric. That pretty much says it all.
The writing is beautiful, descriptive, and even poetic. The opening chapter, the christening party at Fix Keating’s house mesmerized me and grabbed me instantly. I felt as though I could feel the heat in California summer and the slanting sunlight as time passes. The descriptions are in detail and emanating somewhat a languish atmosphere with the descriptions of drunken attendees roaming around the house, setting the perfect tone for this introspective tale of dysfunctional, blended families.
A lot of things happen in this book and once again, the narration is quite in detail. I found the narrative structure is quite unique, jumping back and forth between the timelines and the characters on whom the focus is placed upon differ from one chapter after another.
This is actually the point that surprised me and made me feel a bit disoriented at first. The line between the present and the reminiscence is quite seamless, so I sometimes lost track of the timelines and got a bit confused, ended up listening to the same paragraph again and again, but it didn’t take me so long to get used to.
My initial issue lay with the plot. I am not sure if it’s only me who felt this way, but I didn’t find this a very story-driven book. I didn’t even find any storyline in this book. Rather, I saw this book as a collage of recollections of each character’s life, focusing on the pivotal moments in their lives.
Due to my nature of liking story-driven books rather than character-driven books in general, it took me a while to get into this book, I mean, REALLY get into the book. I kept debating whether to DNF this book or not until I was halfway through the book. Nevertheless, as I said earlier, as I got deeper into this book, something about this book started to grow on me.
Some surprising facts and secrets get revealed along the way and I felt my emotions stirred up and evoked.
I wouldn’t say I could relate to the characters, in fact, I never felt emotionally attached to any of the characters, but something, probably the dramas of life and the ambiance that this book exudes held me in thrall. Combined with the in-depth narratives surrounding the characters and their very complex relationships and friendships, before long, I found myself liking this book and the characters more and more.
This book beautifully and tactfully narrates and delineates the nature of life. At least, this is my take on this Commonwealth. The characters in this book are vulnerable and flawed just like we are and they sometimes make wrong choices and land in unexpected, hapless situations. Some sad, devastating things happen and some family members and siblings get separated. They are forced to reflect on their past – which they would probably rather bury in the sand through the very book the title of which I’ll refrain from divulging. But I could feel the love running between the characters despite everything that’s happened. They, as a whole, survive the test of life and forged bonds between them without hating each other. They are geologically separated, but their thoughts are always with each other. That’s what made this book feel so real to me and I came to appreciate the beauty of it at last.
Life can be extremely messy and I think this book is very ambitious with regard to tackling that aspect of life face-on, making me reflect on all the decisions that I made up to this point and how those decisions led me to where I am now. How things could have been different had I made a different choice, taken a different path.
As I inched toward the end of the book, I felt a lump in my throat for some reason. I wasn’t emotionally attached to the characters, but I terribly missed them, hating to leave them behind.
When I reached the end, this book left me a lingering impression.
This is a well-written, in-depth tale of two families whose lives are intricately intertwined.
Apart from having to follow too many characters throughout the book (and trust me, it’s pretty confusing until you get the hang of it), I am happy with how it went down.
It may take you a while to get reeled into the book especially when you are a plot-driven reader like me, but I still think it’s worth a read. There must be some points that you can appreciate and relate in this book and I would like to hear what you think and what you see in this book.
Personally, I am glad that I read this book and I recommend picking this up if you are interested.
My Rating: ★★★★.5