Publisher’s Synopsis: Since their mother’s death, Tip and Teddy Doyle have been raised by their loving, possessive, and ambitious father. As the former mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle wants to see his sons in politics, a dream the boys have never shared. But when an argument in a blinding New England snowstorm inadvertently causes an accident that involves a stranger and her child, all Bernard cares about is his ability to keep his children-all his children-safe.
She Is Too Fond Of Books’ Review: This is the third Ann Patchett novel I’ve read; I devoured Bel Canto in 2001, and read The Magician’s Assistant earlier this year. I recently re-read Bel Canto (my review is here) for a book group discussion; it was interesting to re-visit Bel Canto so soon after reading Run. I wondered if Bel Canto would hold me spellbound, like it did with my first reading; it did! But, back to Run … I’ve been avoiding this review for weeks, because I’ve had such a hard time coming up with exactly why it didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to like it, I expected to like it, truly; it just didn’t “do it” for me.
Tip and Teddy Doyle are the adopted African-American sons of Bernadette and Bernard Doyle, an attractive, influential, politically-connected couple who also have an older son, Sullivan. Bernadette dies before the story opens; we meet Tip and Teddy in their mid-twenties and experience parts of their childhood through flashbacks. Bernadette’s uncle Sullivan is a favorite who always makes time for Teddy; Patchett’s writing is beautiful, as always:
… the priest had stories stacked up like dinner napkins. Father Sullivan said that they all belonged to Teddy, hundreds of stories waiting to be unfolded. They all started simply, beautifully, “When your mother was nine she got a yellow dress for her birthday. I was at the party. Everything she asked for that year was yellow. She wanted a canary and a lemon cake …”
Somewhere along the line Teddy’s love for his mother had become his love for Father Sullivan, and his love for Father Sullivan became his love for God. The three of them were bound into an inextricable knot: the living and the dead and the life everlasting. Each one led him to the other, and any member of the trinity he loved simply increased his love for all three.
Run takes place over one 24-hour period; this compressed pace is exhausting, but very effective. One scene has a young girl running on an indoor track; Patchett writes in dense, terse, page-long paragraphs:
… She was picking up her pace now on the track, but not to where she would take it. She could have run this fast in the snow. She let herself float forward, every step a leap, her legs stretching out like scissors opened wide. She was a swimmer, a gymastics star, she was a superhuman force that sat outside the fundamental law of nature. Gravity did not apply to here. “Meditation in motion,” her coach would say. She heard his voice in her head as she lapped the talking girls, as she swept past the one who was there to run. From the corner of her vision she could see the step-lunge boy stand up straight and watch her pass. She dried off his forehead with the breeze she made. She wasn’t even trying …
Two stories-within-the-story intrigued me. The novel opens with the tale of a carved 18-inch statue of a woman, the Madonna bearing an uncanny resemblance to Bernadette. Patchett drew me in with the tale of how the statue was acquired generations ago by Bernadette’s great-grandfather.
There is a second interlude that grabbed my attention – one of the characters is visited in a dream and we learn much of her background through this scene. It is a very clever contruct, and very effective with that character in that particular setting. I can’t say more without the potential for spoilers, but those of you who have read the book will understand.
Perhaps the book didn’t sit well with me because I feel the “lessons” or “metaphors” were drawn too heavily. As I reader, I wasn’t allowed to draw conclusions with spare information the author dropped into the story. Rather, Patchett clunked me over the head with morals and heavy symbolism, including stereotypes of race and career choices, the meaning of the word run in the title, and the question of what defines a true family.
Many thanks to Harper Perennial which provided this book in conjunction with the online book club hosted by Gayle at Everyday I Write the Book. Click over to this post on Gayle’s blog to read the opinions of others who participated in the discussion; they run the spectrum! Ann Patchett was interviewed as part of the Authors on Air series on Book Club Girl; the interview is very well done and will help you to learn more about the author and her motivations for writing Run.