Commonwealth by Ann Patchett like any good story always starts out with a bottle of something. It this novel it is a bottle of gin, a big bottle of gin. There are cops and firemen and DA’s, oh my. The core of the novel revolves around two families (Albert and Beverly Cousins and Fix and Teresa Keating), six children (two boys and four girls) and wife swapping. This story is about the six children and the action mostly takes place in California and in the Commonwealth of Virginia, while Chicago, Brooklyn, Amagansett, and Switzerland make cameo appearances. “In Virginia, the six children had shared two bedrooms and a single cat, picked food from one another’s plates and indiscriminately used the same bath towels, but in California everything was separate. Holly and Cal and Albie and Jeanette (Cousins) had never been never been invited to Fix Keating’s house, just as Caroline and Franny (Keating) had never been seen where Teresa Cousins lived.”
Fix and Beverly end up with each other in Virginia. They eventually divorce and move on while Bert and Teresa follow separate paths. They all get along to some degree, but not like the kids who become thick as thieves.
Tragedy besets them when Cal dies and the story is about that event and how each child remembers it and shares it later in life with each other and their parents. Each of the kids has his or her own problems as would be expected. As they all get to adulthood, some with kids, some through multiple marriages, and different professions, they each get closer because of Cal. Franny seems to be the narrator for most of the story especially when she hooked up with a famous author and told him the story of her childhood, which he turned into a very successful novel, Commonwealth, followed by a movie much to the families anger. Albie was the most troubled of the six children with the book. This is like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play within a play, but here is a book and movie within a book.
As the children tend to their aging and dying parents, the stories they speak of revolve around their childhood and particularly around the events surrounding Cal’s death. The reader is constantly hard pressed to keep up with all the familial intrigue, as if Patchett simply wrote chapters, took those chapters and threw them in the air and placed them in the order in which they landed. Within time, it becomes easier and the reader becomes one of the family in the end if this if the end.