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Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - writes Juliet Rieden.

Com­mon­wealth by Ann Patch­ett, Allen & Un­win.

It’s a stink­ing hot day in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in the 1960s and a back­yard chris­ten­ing is about to get un­ruly thanks to the in­tro­duc­tion of a large bot­tle of gin and fresh or­ange juice squeezed from fruit hand-plucked from the sur­round­ing trees and hand-juiced in the Keat­ings’ kitchen. The gin was an un­con­ven­tional gift from an un­in­vited guest, lawyer Bert Cousins, whose in­tro­duc­tion into the world of lo­cal cop Fix Keat­ing and his wife, the beau­teous Bev­erly, proves seis­mic.

Once the gin is drained, neigh­bours rush home to con­trib­ute more bot­tles of hard liquor and the se­date cel­e­bra­tion of baby Frances’ ar­rival turns into a rau­cous shindig. Bert, a mar­ried father of three with a fourth on the way, is blown away by the stun­ning Bev­erly and re­solves that this is “the start of his life” as the pair share a drunken kiss while his preg­nant wife, Teresa, waits at home.

Jump for­ward and Bert and Bev­erly are now mar­ried and liv­ing in Vir­ginia. Their blended fam­ily of six kids trail around in their wake, parcels to be shipped from Cal­i­for­nia to Vir­ginia, each bat­tling with which par­ent they should side with.

Jump for­ward again and baby Franny is all grown up and se­duced by a fa­mous nov­el­ist, to whom she con­fides tales from her dis­jointed child­hood, in­clud­ing a ter­ri­ble fa­tal ac­ci­dent. Of course, her life story seeps into a sup­pos­edly fic­tional novel with its own ram­i­fi­ca­tions. In­deed, Com­mon­wealth is all about con­se­quences.

Author Ann Patch­ett is a supremely ac­com­plished sto­ry­teller with char­ac­ters that bris­tle with ve­rac­ity and sit­u­a­tions de­scribed so vividly they have a filmic qual­ity. The scenes of Fix re­ceiv­ing his dose of chemo and re­count­ing tales from his days on the beat to du­ti­ful Franny, seated by his side, have a rich, soul­ful qual­ity that stays with you.

The re­bel­lion and feel­ing of dis­con­nect­ed­ness in the off­spring of these two fam­i­lies is also pal­pa­ble and in­spired by Patch­ett’s own child­hood as the daugh­ter of di­vorced par­ents. “I wanted to show the long-term reper­cus­sions of a de­ci­sion, how it rip­ples out to so many peo­ple over such a long pe­riod of time,” she says.

This she cer­tainly achieves, but also more than that; there is hu­mour and joy amid the heart­break, and beau­ti­fully crafted sur­prises that keep you guess­ing.

I wanted to show the long-term reper­cus­sions of a de­ci­sion, how it rip­ples out to so many peo­ple over such a long time.

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