Posts Tagged Ann Patchett

book review: Commonwealth


Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. Harper| September 2016| 241 pages | $27.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-240353-7

RATING: ****/5*

What may have been an innocent kiss at a summer party leads to breaking up two families and cobbling together another in best-selling author Ann Patchett’s new novel Commonwealth. As she’s so deftly done in previous novels [Bel Canto, Run, State of Wonder] she writes humorously and movingly about seemingly disparate individuals connected by a shared experience. Bert Cousins and Beverly Keating move from California to Virginia along with Beverly’s two daughters Caroline and Franny. When the girls return from visiting their father in California, Patchett writes: “Beverly dropped to her knees to hug them but they were nothing but ghosts. Caroline wanted to live with her father. She begged for it, she pleaded, and year after year she was denied. Caroline’s hatred for her mother radiated through the cloth on her pink camp shirt as her mother pressed Caroline to her chest. Franny on the other hand simply stood there and tolerated the embrace. She didn’t know how to hate her mother yet, but every time she saw her father crying in the airport she came that much closer to figuring it out.” Oh divorce. . I’m a child of divorce but don’t have a blended family nor do I maintain relationships with my siblings or step-cousins.

Bert’s four children—Cal, Holly, Jeanette and Albie—remain with their mother but visit Virginia each summer. The six children bond over a disdain for their parents. Patchett writes: “The six children held in common one overarching principle that cast their potential dislike for one another down to the bottom of the minor leagues: they disliked their parents. They hated them.” They roam about without parental guidance and get themselves into varying degrees of trouble. The divorce of course affects each child differently. Cal, the oldest, leads the pack carrying a gun because that’s what one does in Virginia apparently. The children also give the littlest boy Albie allergy meds [telling him they are Tic Tacs] to knock him out so he won’t get underfoot. Many children of the 60s, 70s and 80s explored without constant adult supervision. A friend and I took our horses swimming in a man-made pond until the developers complained.

After Cal’s sudden death one summer, the children see less of each other. Spanning 50 years, Patchett develops the characters into adulthood where other events bring the step-siblings back together at times. Caroline, who diligently studied an LSAT book her father gave her for Christmas during childhood and her teen years, become an attorney. Jeanette lives in New York with her doctor husband. Albie is the most transient and troubled of them all. Holly escaped everything to a Buddhist community in Switzerland where she spends her days meditating. When her mom visits, Patchett paints a vivid picture of Holly’s chosen lifestyle and her mom’s discomfort yet willingness to participate in order to see her daughter. There’s much focus on Franny, who I loved. She doesn’t quite know what she wants to do with herself and to that I can definitely relate. Patchett writes: “For someone who had no skills and no idea what she wanted to do with her life other than read, cocktail waitressing was the most money she could make while keeping her clothes on.” While working, she meets the author Leon Posen, decades older than her, whom she greatly admires. They become lovers and she tells him about that summer and he writes a best-selling novel about it. Two decades later when the film version hits theaters, Franny is married with stepchildren and she and Caroline visit their father, Fix, now in his 80s and dying from cancer and take him to see the film.

The novel deftly traverses between different time periods as readers discover what happened to Cal and what everyone’s now doing as an adult. Some characters and scenes resonate more than others. It’s quite a large and unwieldy cast of characters and some of them can get lost in the pages. At times I became slightly slowed down by remembering how one character connected to another. In these characters readers will find some commonality, some connection and that makes the novel thoroughly readable and satisfying.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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September Book Readings in Boston area

art of

Mary Karr
The Art of Memoir
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, September 6 at 7pm


Amor Towles
A Gentleman in Moscow
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, September 7 at 7pm

here i am

Jonathan Safran Foer
Here I Am
Brookline Booksmith
Thursday, September 8 at 6pm

37th parallel

Ben Mezrich
The 37th Parallel
Brookline Booksmith
Friday, September 9 at 7pm

lady copy

Amy Stewart
Lady Cop Makes Trouble
Brookline Booksmith
Saturday, September 10 at 5pm

terror years

Lawrence Wright
The Terror Years
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
Monday, September 12 at 6pm

writing without bs

Josh Bernoff
Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, September 13 at 6:30pm


llucy pear

Ann Hood
The Book that Matters Most
Anna Solomon
Leaving Lucy Pear
Newtonville Books
Tuesday, September 13 at 7pm


Mara Wilson
Where Am I Now?
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
Thursday, September 15 at 6pm

art of money

Bari Tessler
The Art of Money
Trident Booksellers
Tuesday, September 20 at 7pm

pefume river

Robert Olen Butler
Perfume River
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, September 20 at 7pm


Ian McEwan
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, September 21 at 7pm


Caitlin Shetterly
Brookline Booksmith
Friday, September 23 at 7pm

the wonder

Emma Donoghue
The Wonder
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
Friday, September 23 at 6pm

alan cumming

Alan Cumming
You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams
Harvard Book Store at First Parish Church
Sunday, September 25 at 6pm


Ann Patchett
Harvard Book Store at First Parish Church
Thursday, September 29 at 7pm

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BOOKS: My 20 Best of 2011

I’ve read about 100 books this year. These 20 made particularly lasting impressions.

1. The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaajte [Knopf]

2. Caribou Island by David Vann [Harper]

3. The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanha [Greywolf Press]

4. A Stranger on the Planet by Adam Schwartz [Soho Press]

5. The Astral by Kate Christensen [Doubleday]

6. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett [Harper]

7. The Submission by Amy Waldman [F,S&G]

8. Irma Voth by Miriam Toews [Harper]

9. The Rape of the Muse by Michael Stein [The Permanent Press]

10. The Lies Have It by Jill Edmondson [Iguana]

11. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta [St. Martins]

12. My New American Life by Francine Prose [Harper]

13. Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward [Random House]

14. The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl by Marc Schuster [The Permanent Press]

15. The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen [Riverhead]

16. The Ringer by Jenny Shank [The Permanent Press]

17. Slant by Timothy Wang [Tincture]

18. The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen [Crown]

19. The Social Climber’s Handbook by Molly Jong-Fast [Villard]

20. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson [Ecco]

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in the realm: Quotes

From what he’d seen of Denver in the entire half an hour he’d been there, he wouldn’t be staying. It was too clean, too hard to breathe, too white. Sure, the mountains were pretty, but he didn’t require beauty in a city—he needed edge, funkiness, diversity, and at least one superior Chinese restaurant that delivered
Patchwork by Dan Loughry

It is said that sesta is one of the only gifts the Europeans brought to South America, but I imagine the Brazilians could have figured out how to sleep in the afternoon without having to endure centuries of murder and enslavement.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Sometimes it’s us, nudging people back on plan.
The Adjustment Bureau

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State of Wonder: short book review

State of Wonder , by Ann Patchett. Publisher: Harper (June 7, 2011). Literary fiction. Hardcover, 368 pages.

Marina hadn’t understood the enormity of the river until she was on it. The sky was spread over in white clouds that banked and thinned depending on the direction she turned in. Some of the clouds had covered over the sun so for the moment it was cooler, and the breeze of their forward momentum kept the insects down. The birds shot out from the banks and cut over the water.

Ann Patchett connects the Amazon and the pharmaceutical industry in a creepy and engrossing manner. Marina Singh works as a researcher for a Midwestern pharmaceutical company. She’s also involved with Mr. Fox, the company CEO. When word arrives from Dr. Annick Swenson that Marina’s colleague died while at her camp, Fox sends Marina to find out what happened to Dr. Eckman as well as the progression of Swenson’s drug research on an indigenous group. The magical, curious, breathtaking and spooky Amazon awaits Marina. State of Wonder captivates with its vivid imagery, intriguing characters and surprising developments.

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