Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Posted in Blog by - March 22, 2017

CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am unembarrassed to join the chorus of praise for this complex yet lucid novel, which presents us with two fractured families linked by betrayal and tragedy and makes us forgive their sins. Surefooted as a mountain goat, Patchett leaps to and fro across 50 years of nonlinear narrative, carrying us along on prose as clear and bracing as an alpine spring.

In its strongest chapter, the novel carries us to a Buddhist retreat in Switzerland that evokes The Magic Mountain unmistakably. But while it conveys the nuance and detail of literature, Commonwealth continually radiates humor, compassion and humility.

The book’s title refers to Virginia, where its story begins, as well as to a novel within the novel, an ingenious conceit and the hinge of the plot. But it is also apt in another way: Though its idiom appears plain and ordinary, Commonwealth delivers a rich bounty of rewards.

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Rick Schindler grew up in the idyllic northern suburbs of Buffalo, N.Y., a psychic stone’s throw from Archie Andrews’ hometown of Riverdale. His writing career began at age 15 when he won a New York Times award for a short story published in his high school literary magazine. At 19 he interned on the copy desk of the Buffalo News, where he discovered a knack for headline writing that has served him in good stead until the present day. He went on to a checkered media career that has included stints at HBO, TV Guide and NBC News Digital, where today he is a writer and editor for the website of the venerable American TV show TODAY. Schindler shared a 2012 Sigma Delta Chi award in online reporting with NBC News’ Bob Dotson for the “American Story with Bob Dotson” features on TODAY.com. He also won two 2012 awards in headline writing from the American Copy Editors Society, another in 2014 and two more in 2015. Schindler lives in White Plains, New York.