Genres: Fiction, Drama
I saw this book being hyped all over Goodreads and also at the The Washington Post and New York Times, which got me really curious. I am quite into family drama stories, and this one follows the Keating and the Cousins families through five decades of the life of 4 adults and 6 children.
It all starts with the christening party of one of the children, Franny, Beverly and Fix Keating’s second child. Bert Cousins, trying to escape his pregnant wife and three small children at home on a Saturday, shows up at the party uninvited and with a bottle of gin as a gift. He and Beverly tipsily kiss during the party, and that changes everyone’s lives, settling in motion the dissolving of marriages and entangling of families, which will bring decades of resentment, frustration and unlikely bonds.
I found the first chapter a little confusing, there were so many names and I thought it would be hard to keep all the characters apart throughout the book – which turned out not to be a problem, they had such different personalities and stories (the author did such a good job on that), that it was easy to keep track of them. Patchett’s writing is very engaging, elegant and yet simple. The jumping from one point in time and character to another took me about 2 chapters to get used to, and I must say the book gets better after the first few chapters, in my opinion. There is SO MUCH drinking in this novel – in the first chapters the adults are getting drunk at the little baby Franny’s christening party. Made me want to have a gin and tonic while reading it (I mean – an apple juice, mom).
For all the stories that are told and the time span they are told through, one would expect it to be a much longer book, but I am glad it wasn’t – although I would have liked to know a bit more about Beverly’s feelings on her first divorce and Bert’s feelings on his failed relationships. Impressively, a little over 300 pages of the story of 10 main characters covered everyone’s lives pretty well.
All in all, this was a really good book, but I think it was a bit hyped up. I gave it 3 stars because I expected a little more from it. When it comes to family drama, I still prefer other books than this one, but this does such a great job making you wonder how the characters’ lives would have turned out “if”… and I think this is this novel’s greatest triumph: it tells you the story of how it was, but creates so many alternative stories in your mind.
To enjoy this book, you should probably be already a fan of stories about dysfunctional families. If realistic fiction isn’t your cup of tea, then this isn’t for you. Otherwise, it’s quite a good book – very engaging, with wonderful character development and a beautiful telling of how complicated blending families can be.