Commonwealth (Patchett)

This is my first Patchett book, and I’m not sure why I waited this long. She’s certainly come to my attention recently because I used to live in Nashville, and she opened a bookstore there. Plus, I heard a podcast that featured her, and I was enchanted both by her and the excerpts of the novel that she read to the audience.

It is not often that I wish that a book were longer, but this novel has an inspiring sense of an epic, and I wanted more – not only in between chapters (some of the transitions can be a bit abrupt) – but at the end. Let the generations continue.

The book, which opens with the christening party that changes everything (a section I heard her read out loud), is the story of things, both planned and unplanned, both small and large, that can shift the courses of our lives in ways that we don’t anticipate or even notice, until we’re so far off course that we can’t find our way back. It is about the sins not just of the father, but of the mother and the children as well. And Fix, the father in that opening scene, realizes this at his 83rd birthday: “There’s no protecting anyone. . . Keeping people safe is a story we tell ourselves.”

This story resonated with me in all sorts of ways. Tolstoy was right:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”