ELLE Book Club

Book of the week: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

A bittersweet family saga set in California, spanning five decades

CliffsNotes: Set in 1960s California, Commonwealth is a twisted, tumultuous family tree of parents, children, stepchildren, siblings, and stepsiblings. Bert Cousins and Beverly Keating leave their spouses for each other. Their new collective causes much anger, rebellion and resentment – and serious accidents. Years later, in her twenties, Beverly's daughter Franny recounts their stories to novelist Leon Posen, secrets and all. Their childhood becomes the basis for his bestselling book and then a movie, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their loss, their guilt, and the deep loyalty they feel for one another. 

Get a taste: Fix had asked his wife two weeks ago why she thought they had to invite every single person they knew in the world to a christening party and she'd asked him if he wanted to look over the guest list and tell her who to cut. He hadn't looked at the list, but if she were standing at the door now he would have pointed straight ahead and said, Him. Not that he disliked Albert Cousins, he didn't know him other than to put his name together with his face but not knowing him was the reason not to invite him.  

Author 101: Her father, Frank Patchett, was a Los Angeles police officer for 33 years, and had participated in the arrest of Charles Manson. The Orange Prize-winning author draws from personal experience in telling the story of the children in Commonwealth. In 2012, Patchett was on the TIME 100 list of most influential people in the world.

Similar reads: Freedom and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy 

Commonwealth (Bloomsbury) is out now