Commonwealth by the well-regarded Ann Patchett was my book club’s favorite read of 2017 and among my favorite of all the books I read in 2017. It’s a family drama filled with feeling and nuance set in 1960s Virginia and continuing through the 2010s. It’s not what I would call a page-turner, but it is an exceptionally crafted book with insightful writing. The book follows the members of two families that become entwined when the an extra-marital affair occurs between them and they are forced to become a sort of patched together family. It will make you reflect on life and how fast it goes by. If you liked Commonwealth, or it sounds like something you might like, but you’re looking for a faster-paced family drama, The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows is a great pick.
The Truth According to Us was written by a co-author of the best-seller, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It takes place in the 1930s in a small West Virginia town and follows a handful of characters either in or connected to one family. This family is full of secrets, but their loyalty to each other is paramount. At the center of the story, although never a narrator, is the patriarch of the family who is rakish and charming and maybe doesn’t deserve the respect he has in the family by his sister and niece. A young woman boards with the family when she is sent to chronicle the history of the small town for a government project and becomes enamored with the patriarch as well.
Both of these books are historical fiction, family dramas with stand out writing. They both offer a story told through multiple narrators over the course of multiple timelines. They explore regrets and consequences with unflinching honesty. Barrows’ novel moves at a quicker pace, but Patchett’s writing is something to behold and savor with its slower pace. The Truth According to Us is the more dramatic and exciting cousin to Commonwealth.