New year new me.
Lol jk, I’m still reading books. In fact I finished Commonwealth in the first two days of the year so I would say 2017 is off to a great start.
I have big plans for this year, which including reading and writing, but you don’t want to hear about my #goals #2017 #reading4lyfe so let’s get to the important stuff. Patchett’s Commonwealth.
Why start with Commonwealth you ask? I imagine the answer will be somewhat disappointing, I got a bike for Christmas and wanted an audio book to listen to while I rode around. I’d heard lots about this one, saw it at the top of the Audible app and here we are. And before you ask I was not on my bike for the full ten and a half hours. I cheated and listened when I got home as well.
*General Spoiler alert* This story follows two families who end up sort of blending to become one family, over several decades. The children, when they are children, hate their parents and sometimes each other. The parents don’t know how to handle them and are generally absent both physically and emotionally. The kids sort of grow out of it and join society as average citizens. Obviously there are more details, a sibling dies, one becomes a Buddhist in Switzerland, a mother dies, a father gets cancer, and one sister’s dates a famous novelist who writes their life story as a novel titled Commonwealth. #meta
While those details make the plot sound exciting and new, generally I would say the opposite is true. All the old cliches are met. The over achieving sister remains that way until the end, the other daughter doesn’t stay with the novelist but ends up with her old friend, the family can’t get over the child’s death, cheaters continue to cheat, the beautiful but vacant mother never changes. Maybe the point is that cliches are there for a reason?
But as much as I thought the plot was promising, that first one sentence summery was accurate. I was left feeling like the whole novel had been an exercise in indulgence.
Don’t get me wrong, it was written beautifully and there were some surprisingly deep one liners throughout. But other than that I was largely unimpressed.
For instance, the first chapter describes a christening party for one of the children that has an extraordinary amount of basically useless details. We spend a chunk of time in the priest’s head, and I do mean a chunk of time, and after that chapter we never hear about him again. Why? What was the point?
As Commonwealth is ‘all the rage’ I imagine my dislike is based on stylistic preferences; I love books that make you feel like your heart was ripped out or your guts, or you’ve just discovered something new and amazing. Maybe other people felt that way after this, but for me it just felt like it was glorifying (romanticizing? normalizing?) dysfunctional families and that was it. Actions have consequences, the end. But shouldn’t we have known that before we read this?
I’m still going to recommend it, like I said the writing is beautiful and I appreciated some of the wit. But I wouldn’t bump it to the top of your to read list. Leave it in the middle.