In my post on reading slumps and how to get out of them, I wrote: “I need a Dutch House or a Ruth Ware, please and thank you,” and one of you reasonably replied: “I’d turn to Patchett herself to deliver a Dutch House-like read — Commonwealth or State of Wonder!” Thank you, eternally, Joyce, for the nudge.
Like The Dutch House, Commonwealth glides by, quiet and elegant in tenor, as Patchett delicately interrogates the ins and outs of family dynamics in settings so convincingly captured in precise language that I can’t believe I didn’t once spend a night at Leo Posen’s rented house in Amagansett, or prop my feet up against that stone hearth in Bert Cousins’ home in Arlington. The characters are nothing short of stunning in both their believability (don’t I know Franny and Caroline Keating?) and in the profound (and profoundly-captured) ways in which they feel and love their way through their complicated lives. Patchett is superb. She is astonishing. She is capable of such memorable, likely-to-be-quoted-into-eternity lines as the one Fix delivers while battling metastasized cancer:
“People are scared of the wrong things. We go around thinking that what’s going to get us is waiting on the other side of the door: it’s outside, it’s in the closet, but it isn’t like that. For the vast majority of the people on this planet, the thing that’s going to kill them is already on the inside.”
But she is equally adept with the small details of life that show us, rather than tell us, who these rich characters truly are: the things they decide not to say, the nearly imperceptible shift in emotions when standing waiting for a mother at an airport in Switzerland, the unassuming tendernesses they bestow on their ailing or aging parents and siblings, performed reflexively and without expectation of gratitude.
And then there is the central, gaping loss of Cal, and the central, fusing force of Franny’s love and the way she persists in keeping the family together almost without thinking about it, just by virtue of being herself. Such beautiful symmetry, and so true to the way families can operate. I also enjoyed the metafictional elements introduced by the character of award-winning novelist Leo Posen and the way in which his presentation of the story of Franny’s childhood nearly competes with the novel unfolding before our eyes in Patchett’s hands. The final line about Franny “keeping something for herself” reified Patchett’s narrative as “the truth” or as true to life as art can be. Leo had missed something in his story because Franny had held it back, and yet we, as readers of Patchett’s work, were privy to that something and must remind ourselves: “This is all fiction.” What a gift, to build an imagined universe so realistic readers cannot believe it is not real. Commonwealth is trompe l’oeil in haute literary form!
That concluding line also made me think of Franny and the other characters in the novel as entities — spirits, forces — that can exist beyond the page, beyond the written word, and that we might never fully know them. There is, in short, something stirring and philosophical about the verisimilitude of her writing and her direct engagement with “real life” versus “fiction” in the plot line surrounding Franny and Leo.
Mainly, though: it was simply a joy to read. The language, the characters, the pace, the settings — I felt like I was waking from a delicious nap after I finished it, sitting still and quiet in a happy haze of satisfaction. With this book, Patchett cemented herself in my opinion as one of the best writers of our time.
+I actually listened to Commonwealth on audiobook, narrated by Hope Davis, and she did an incredible job narrating. Quite a feat given all the different characters! I especially loved the softness of her voice when reading the Beverly Keating bits. More of my favorite audiobooks here.
+You know I love a good shirtdress, and this one comes in great colors. Love the khaki and white stripe!
+Oh my goodness, I love this top in the blue!
+This wrapped pitcher gets the look of Amanda Lindroth for much less!
+Shopbop just marked down a bunch of their beautiful Hunting Season bags. This is timeless.
+I bought this well-priced white dress for myself.
+In case you need to hear it: think of the howling wolves.
+Also love the patterns of this wrapping paper — those blue hearts!
+My sister just gave me this award-winning facial mask, which she has been raving about. Can’t wait to try! Will report back in my next installment of honest reviews. (Most recent one here, including several items currently available at a discount thanks to Sephora’s spring sale!)
+Another recent installment in my book club series. I was stirred by how many of you are fans of Patricia Lockwood! Thanks, as always, for your comments.
+These quilted, scalloped shams would add such an interesting pop of high-end-designer-looking style to white bedding.
+More chic backyard finds here.
+People rave about this spray for removing stains from carpets. Have you tried it?
+Jammies that look a lot like my beloved Eberjeys at about half the price.