How does a car-ride feel across a long, stretched road? Bumpy? Restless? Exhilarating? Tiresome? While a whole bunch of elements might prompt us to arrive at one or many words, there is, perhaps, a single word that can bring the responses of most of us onto a common plain – unforgettable.
Ann Patchett takes us on one such ride. In Commonwealth, she takes two families and follows their six children across a time span of 50 odd years.
When Beverly Keating chooses to marry Bert Cousins, walking away from her husband, Fix and two daughters, Caroline and Franny, she is resolute in staying connected to her girls. Bert, on his part, shares a similar sentiment for his four children, Cal, Holly, Jeannette and Albie. But six growing children with untamed streams of inquisitiveness and opinions prove more than handful for the parents. It is their estranged dreams, shared failures, collective successes, rigid silences, futile questions and mismatched lives that form the crux of this novel.
During the early parts of the novel, the pages moved with a burden on their bodies; the noticeably lax pace almost reflected a tired family that was compelled to drag itself into the act, being devoid of interest in the ride. The ride was, thus, just dragging along. But it wasn’t without the occasional spotting of coruscating life:
Prosecutors should insist the trials of murderers and drug lords be held in economy class on crowded transatlantic flights, where any suspect would confess to any crime in exchange for the promise of a soft bed in a dark, quiet room.
Like the cacophony of a garrulous bunch of kids, too many characters were vying for the chisel in the author’s hands and consequently, appeared rough and flustered. But towards the second half, the narrative surreptitiously came together, almost like how a journey makes so much more sense when it comes full circle.
The discreet pull between siblings, even step-siblings, finds a tender meaning when expressed in the deep-seeped delicate and measured prose of the author and the conversations carry an endearing warmth of their own. Patchett does a masterly job in depicting the ease of embracing pain that invariably is a legacy of ripe age. From heartaches to aimlessness, from reunion to illness, the families have a real fabric to them which make them spring out from the book and nestle next to us. It may not be wrong to say that this book is a subtle song about the many colours of a ‘family’ and how it continues to reflect crimson and grey skies around our existences despite the many whirlwinds of time.
When the drive finally ended after multiple deviations, maneauvered by the many drivers of the Keating and Cousins family, accommodating many lift-takers, there was a sense of contentment; not the one which sets the heart at ease and brings the feet to rest but the kind that thanks for a largely memorable ride, despite the many thorns that continue to stare from the punctured tyres.