I started Commonwealth via audiobook, and though I was intrigued and entertained my the narration, about 45% into the story line, I still had no idea what was going on.
The main characters are introduced in a party scene of which friends and family are gathered together over a backyard get-together in celebration of the youngest daughter’s christening. There are so many characters that I immediately was confused. When I finally picked up the thread of the novel, I understood that Bert Cousins kissed Beverly Keating, effectively starting an affair that dissolved both of their marriages. Now the Cousins and the Keating children get together with their respective parents every summer in Virginia. Then the storyline starts to jump around from past to present, with Franny Keating falling for famed author Leon Posen, and her telling him about her childhood as a blended family.
However, as things went on, I started to lose track of who was who. New characters are still being introduced, and I was losing track of the original family blend. At this point, I decided to DNF the audiobook, and resorted back to the physical copy I snagged at a library book sale sometime in April.
I did a little research and came up with this character map to help get the characters straight in my mind.
Once I had the character map, I was able to figure out where I had gotten lost, and continued to read. In this way, I found myself being able to connect with these characters and their stories much better and was surprised by Albie and Cal’s storylines.
However, I was getting irritated that there were still new characters being introduced 200 pages into the 300 page narrative. Additionally, the plot starts to jump around with very little preface- just all of a sudden, you’re 20 years into the future or past. Just when I felt like I was suddenly piecing things together, Patchette changes the tenses on me. I was starting to get frustrated again and though I was too involved with the characters, I wanted to throw the novel on the floor because of how patchy the writing was- like short stories strung together without any proper order.
However, I pushed through and finished the novel. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the story, but I definitely didn’t enjoy the technical reading itself. Theme-wise, the idea of a blended family, of love despite struggle, of family not always being blood-related…this I enjoyed. I felt for Albie, and was devastated by Cal, and loved Caroline’s dry wit. However, if I have to work that hard to enjoy a novel, then it’s not really for me. Often, Commonwealth reminded me of There There, because of how complex the novel became with all the characters. So, if you enjoyed that read, you’ll probably enjoy Commonwealth as well.