Contemporary · Fiction · Literary

The Psychology of Dysfunction



Author: Ann Patchett
Published: Sept 13th 2016 | Harper Collins
Length: 336 pages

Buy: Amazon

In this dissection of a family, award winning author Ann Patchett follows fifty years of life in the Cousins and Keating households. From the first glimpses of unraveling marriages, to the aftereffects of divorce, to children now grown with families of their own, Commonwealth examines the effects of time and the ties of family. In an interview for Bookpage, Patchett describes fusing families as the experience of being forced into a group of strangers and forming alliances with them by necessity. How does time effect the dynamics between siblings, between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons? This novel examines how the lens of the past effects how we see one another. What might forgiveness look like, or healing from dysfunction? Is this even possible? Patchett digs into the starkness of the human experience of isolation, and the wrongdoing he so often bleeds out, while celebrating man’s unquenchable capacity to love and be loved.

This is a very highly anticipated work hitting shelves shortly, but as a semi-autobiography it is new territory for Patchett. I have been told that her past works have had action-oriented plots and were based more on research than personal experience. I’m not sure this new territory has served her well. I found the experience of dysfunction in Commonwealth true to life, but when the characters recovered a measure of  wholeness, I was left uncertain about what brought about their recovery. I particularly wondered what enabled the children to not replicate their negative experience on their own offspring. Commonwealth seems to lack genuine hope, though it is full of hopeful wishing. As for character development, while I could understand where the characters’ choices were coming from, the story did not move me to root for them despite their flaws, which is one thing I particularly value in good writing. This novel is worthwhile as a psychological critique and hits the cord of human experience, but I would recommend it with caution.

ARC courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers


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