Tuesday, April 7, 2020

COMMONWEALTH by Ann Patchett

In the first few pages of COMMONWEALTH by Ann Patchett, we learn that a kiss between a man and a woman who are not supposed to kiss, kiss. After the forbidden act, we see all of the ways in which lives (of the man, woman, and their respective children) are forever altered and affected.

During the course of the book, the reader is made to wonder how these lives could have avoided some of the pain that we are made to correlate to that kiss.

This reminds me of the kind of thinking that kicks in in real life when something bad happens to me. Like a car accident. And I immediately start wondering to myself: "If only I hadn't left the house at that hour ... or if only I would have taken a different offramp." And on and on. Wishful correlations that convince me in the moment that if only I could have done X, then Y wouldn't have happened. If only.

And then I wake up from that wishful thinking and call my insurance, call triple A, call everyone else in my life who help me recover. Eventually, the acuteness of the pain and the regret dissipate. Because other things happen. Other joys. Other accidents. Other regrets. Other fortunes. Other victories. Other deaths ... where I become blanketed by a mature calm that teaches me that without the accident, I would never know the joy that has blossomed from it. 

Franny (the daughter of the woman who kissed the man) grows up and takes on a lover with a famous writer who is many many years her senior. He learns of her biography and writes a novel based on it and titles it COMMONWEALTH. It is an act that upsets and invigorates everyone involved.

How dare he.
It is not his story to tell.
It is not anyone's to tell.

And like an image of a person in a mirror holding a thing who is holding a thing (without end), I realize that I am holding a book titled COMMONWEALTH written not by Franny's lover, but by Ann Patchett. And as the book concludes with Franny remembering a story that she never told her lover and therefore never made it into COMMONWEALTH and therefore thinks she has protected it from being told, I realize it has made it into Patchett's COMMONWEALTH, and wonder if stories belong to anyone or everyone.