I’m on a bit of a mission to read all of Ann Patchett’s books and so last week I picked up Run, which was first published in 2007. I like Patchett’s fiction because she writes about a wide variety of situations, yet with each book I’ve read, I’ve felt a familiar warmth about the characters she creates.
Run is a domestic drama set in Boston and takes place over twenty-four hours in the aftermath of an accident during a blizzard. During this time, members of the Doyle family discover a shocking connection between them and a mother and daughter involved in the accident, Tennessee and Kenya Moser, and must redefine their beliefs about family.
Patchett tells the story in a third-person omniscient point of view and through her characters’ thoughts and other flashbacks, readers learn the Doyle family’s back story. Bernard Doyle, a widower, is the former mayor of Boston and father to three grown sons, Sullivan, Tip and Teddy. Sullivan, the oldest and his only natural son, is thirty-four and has just come back from Africa. He’d left Boston after a scandal and his prodigal return brings tension to the family, as it seems he is again on the run.
Tip and Teddy are Doyle’s adopted African American sons, brought into the family before Doyle’s wife died. They are natural brothers, given up by their mother, first Teddy, as a newborn and soon after, Tip, a toddler. Now in college, their father is pressing them to enter politics, to fulfill his own dream that was cut short. Through their conversations, Patchett shows the growing conflict between the otherwise loving, though doting, father and the mostly always appeasing boys who have no interest in politics. Tip is a student at Harvard, and has immersed himself in the study of ichthyology (that’s fish). Teddy, like his uncle, Father Sullivan, is a freshman at Northeastern and plans to become a priest. Doyle, always persistent, still thinks he can change their minds.
But that’s all on hold because now the Doyles must step into new roles as they look after Kenya Moser while her mother is in the hospital. Kenya, twelve, lives in the projects not far from the Doyle’s upscale home and the uncomfortable contrast becomes the elephant in the room. I was particularly moved during a heartbreaking scene in which Doyle takes Kenya to her apartment to pack her things and Kenya has nothing to put them in. And while Sullivan seems to be the one you can’t depend on, he comes through in a way the others can’t.
Readers sense a building tension as the Doyles and Kenya move through the day and Tennessee recovers at the hospital. Teddy has urged them all to meet up at the hospital and arranges to transport his frail uncle to see Tennessee, certain that his Uncle Sullivan’s healing powers will help her.
I enjoyed this family story about dreams, disappointments, secrets and lies, although I thought it was a little bit dated, fifteen years later and a bit coincidental. Patchett includes themes of religion, race, privilege and poverty and shows how the brothers and Doyle, despite their privileged lives, learn a great deal from Kenya. The title comes from a variety of ideas. First, there is Doyle’s desire for his sons to run for political office. In addition, Kenya’s talent as a runner connects her to Tip and Teddy, who were once talented runners. And although I didn’t realize it until I started writing this, the title can also refer to how Sullivan has run away from his problems.
I recommend Run to readers who like family dramas that are tied to social and political ideas.
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Here’s some information about Ann Patchett and her books.
From Ann Patchett’s website:
ANN PATCHETT is the author of eight novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, State of Wonder, Commonwealth and The Dutch House. She was the editor of Best American Short Stories, 2006, and has written five books of nonfiction, including Truth & Beauty, about her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy, What Now? an expansion of her graduation address at Sarah Lawrence College, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of essays examining the theme of commitment, and These Precious Days, essays on home, family, friendship, and writing. In 2019, she published her first children’s book, Lambslide, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Escape Goat was published in 2020.
The Patron Saint of Liars (1992)
The Magician’s Assistant (1997)
Bel Canto (2001)
State of Wonder (2011)
The Dutch House (2019)
Truth and Beauty (2004)
What Now? (2008)
The Bookshop Strikes Back (2012)
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (2013)
These Precious Days: Essays (2021)
Escape Goat (2020)
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