...an outstanding novel ... Patchett is a pleasure to read: there is a no-fuss casualness to the prose that is only possible when a writer is in control of every word and she is master of her art ... emotional copyright is, in this unpushy and brilliant novel, more powerful than anyone dared suppose.
...[an] exquisite new novel ... Commonwealth spans over 50 years, and the stories of how these children move uncertainly into adulthood — and how their parents adjust to the misfortunes that accrue — are painfully beautiful.
...very soon, we’re thoroughly invested in these families, wrapped up in their lives by Patchett’s storytelling, which has never seemed more effortlessly graceful. This is minimalism that magically speaks volumes ... Drawing us through this complex genealogy of guilt and forgiveness, Patchett finally delivers us to a place of healing that seems quietly miraculous, entirely believable.
There is no shortage of great literature about the fallout from divorce and the reconfigured families that children are left to cope with. Commonwealth stands out on many levels, from its assured handling of complex time shifts to Patchett’s extraordinary compassion even for seriously flawed characters like Bert ... she has incorporated into her art her compunctions about telling a story that isn’t entirely hers to tell. In an age where so little is sacrosanct, this is remarkable.
Close observation and deadpan humor unite the episodes...But the pussyfooting treatment of Cal’s death is a reminder that for all the boldness of Ms. Patchett’s set-ups, she has often lacked the dramatic killer instinct ... It’s telling about this novel that although a gun is introduced in the early chapters, and Chekhov regularly invoked, it never goes off.
...[a] rich and engrossing new novel ... In delineating the casual blend of irritation and unsentimental affection among family members of all ages, Patchett excels ... Patchett’s language is generally plain but occasionally soars satisfyingly; her observations about people and life are insightful; and her underlying tone is one of compassion and amusement ... Because of the circular structure of the plot, the fatal episode is depicted three separate times, in increasingly poetic language that I found hard to take.
Moving fluidly from one character to another and back and forth in time over 50 years, Patchett manages to capture those moments of life that, strung together, however awkwardly, constitute family history ... each of these characters is uniquely real, sympathetic and interesting by virtue of being so clearly and credibly drawn.
All of this will make Commonwealth sound like a domestic novel, and it is – one of the finest in recent memory, which is reason enough to admire it ... In particular, Commonwealth is one of the most discerning novels about siblings I can recall ... The novel is alive with provocative insights that sum up entire relationships ... one of the ways we come together is through sharing our treasures – including jewels like Commonwealth.
Commonwealth is a beautiful puzzle box of a book, one that doesn’t clearly fit together until all of a sudden, midway through, it does. Unpretentious and ultimately heartbreaking, miniaturist but also sprawling, Commonwealth is a story about family stories ... feels like Patchett’s most intimate novel, and is without a doubt one of her best.
Patchett has a deep sense of empathy for her characters. In Commonwealth these wary strangers – who start out unwillingly mushed together by a betrayal – find that shared history and kindness aren't the worst foundations on which to build a family.
Patchett again whips the imagined stories of ordinary people into an extraordinarily interesting work of fiction ... Patchett, with elegance and self-assurance, delivers powerful portraits of her men and women, especially the six stepsiblings who, though they fight and argue, are united in their resentment of their parents. Each has a distinct personality.
Wisely, Patchett avoids condemning any of her characters. Rather, she identifies with how all parties, including the adults that are collateral damage in the Bert/Beverly union, soldier on amid turmoil and heartbreak. Spinning ordinary lives into literary gold requires a mature and confident writer. With Commonwealth, Patchett proves she’s up to the task.
When I say Commonwealth is a certifiable hoot to read, that’s really just an understatement ... The genius of the way Patchett approached Commonwealth is that it’s constructed like a puzzle. Each chapter takes place at a different point over the course of 50 years and reveals a section of the ever-expanding family’s story. This way, we don’t find out all the necessary details, nor the real truth of matters, until Patchett is good and ready.
...arguably [Patchett's] best novel ... Ms. Patchett has a keen ear for the hurtful banter and eloquent silences of children and adolescents, and her young characters are believable, sympathetic and maddening ... her writing is elegant and economical, a pleasure to read. Commonwealth is an ambitious and accomplished book that will please Ms. Patchett’s current fans and surely win her many new ones.
[Commonwealth] is the kind of book that makes you think not of great adventures or faraway places but your own modest choices, and crooked shots at forming a life that suits you. How to make a life? How to make a family? These are, after all, the real questions, the momentous choices ... In Commonwealth, Patchett shows that great drama isn't necessary. Guns and floods and fire and terrorists needn't kill us. Ordinary life will suffice.
...both tenderhearted and tough, dryly funny and at times intensely moving ... Patchett’s episodic approach, skipping among characters and decades, teasing out details, allows her to weave a rich tapestry of a tale that never wastes a word ... a book so refreshingly honest you can’t help but laugh.
...a gracefully constructed, engrossing read ... [Commonwealth's] main accomplishment is to demonstrate how families can be defined by random affinity, proximity and choice as much as by genetic relation.
Patchett has done something slightly different, reverse-engineering the family novel into something more diffuse and modern, something that speaks to the breakdown of traditional arcs and structures ... Commonwealth’s best sections remain its crowd scenes; with lively moments and multiple players jockeying for attention ... So many of the novels you read have a sense of fatalism, a destined arc. In a sense, the work of this novel is to undo that fatalistic aspect of the narratives we create about our families and their histories.
You could make the argument that this is really Franny’s book; she has the troubled, questing quality that often marks out Patchett’s female leads. And perhaps you could argue, too, that putting Franny out in front makes Commonwealth a sophisticated metafiction; that’s one way to think about it, once you turn the final page. But in the end this is simply a compelling novel, full of characters who ring true. They suffer, they despair; and they discover that hope can be found in the most unlikely places. If wisdom and kindness win out, it’s not because the path that leads to either is an easy one.
This book is grounded in autobiography. Not knowing that will in no way diminish its joys, but understanding the parallels to Patchett’s own story lends an additional dimension, a layering of real and imagined that adds weight and depth to an already strong and lovely story ... the first chapter of Commonwealth should be required reading for writers who want to understand how to set up an entire novel in just a few pages ... Her sharply observed narrative makes the novel laugh-out-loud funny at the same time that it is heartbreaking, maddening, and irresistible.
From that first sip of gin to the end of each story it sets in motion, Commonwealth is compelling reading. It's also a masterful feat, a Matryoshka doll of a novel with so many moving parts it's hard to fathom how Patchett juggles them all, but she does, and with great aplomb.
...despite its pedestrian subject matter, the book is not boring, not even a little. That’s because Patchett’s writing gathers power in small moments ... Then there’s the ease and beauty of her prose. Patchett’s sentences unspool like string tied to a kite in strong wind. They are sharp but accessible, a testament to a writer who has perfected her craft ... Commonwealth is not perfect—a few loose ends never tie up—but neither are families. By examining those imperfections and the pains that loved ones take to overcome them, Patchett has written a family drama for the ages.
...[a] moving, beautifully crafted novel ... Patchett’s dramatic forward and backward shifts in time and among her characters, coupled with her frequently elegiac tone, recall Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Patchett's novel can't be reduced to a single story line; like life, it sprawls across too much time to be about just one thing. The chapters jump around in time, and details that seem unimportant in the moment become deeply significant years later. Patchett gives us funny, flawed characters, and the rich reward of Commonwealth is seeing their lives unfold and expand across the years — watching them work through traumas and betrayals to find perspective and claim their own life stories.
...a sly book about storytelling, a story about a single incident — really two pivotal incidents — spun out over the length of a narrative constructed like a conversation but encompassing decades ... this book is breathtakingly great ... an affecting, beautiful, truthful novel.