RUN by Ann Patchett

PatchettThe EDIWTB book club pick for September was Run, by Ann Patchett. Run is the story of the Doyle family, a former mayor of Boston and his three sons – Sullivan, Tip and Teddy. Tip and Teddy, African-American brothers, were adopted by Doyle (I am not sure we ever learn his first name) and his late wife Bernadette when they were very young. Bernadette died of cancer when the boys were still young, and they were raised by Doyle in a large old house in Boston and afforded all of the benefits of affluence.

When the book opens, Tip and Teddy are late to meet their father for a lecture by Jesse Jackson at Harvard. Much to Doyle's chagrin, neither boy is interested in politics, and they reluctantly attend the lecture only out of loyalty to their father. It's a snowy Boston night, and a freak accident after the lecture brings the threesome into contact with Kenya, an 11-year old girl, and her mother Tennessee – two people that, it turns out, are intimately connected to the family. The book follows the next 24 hours, with Tennessee in the hospital due to injuries sustained in the accident and the Doyle family coming to terms with her and Kenya's existence.

In an interview in the back of the edition I read, Ann Patchett said that to her, the book was about politics. To me, it was about identity. In Run, there are children whose mothers have died, children who never knew their mothers, and children who believed their mothers were someone other than who they really were. The book explores how these kids – grown or not – established their sense of belonging and self based on who raised them, and whom they gravitated toward as family.  It also conversely examines the notion of parenthood – what constitutes a parent? Is it simply genetics, or a history of nurturing and love? What role does race play in parenting and familial identity? There are clearly nature vs nurture issues at play here, which are interesting to trace and analyze.

I am an Ann Patchett fan, so I had high hopes for this book. I thought that Bel Canto was about as close to a perfect novel as I have ever read. However, I just didn't love this book, for a couple of reasons. First, I found the plot somewhat contrived and the characters bordering on stereotypes – the Irish Catholic politician, the wayward rebellious politician's son, the noble single mom, the African-American track star. Tip and Teddy were a little more interesting to me, probably because as the black adopted sons of a white politician, they could have turned out a number of ways. Their strong bond despite their innate differences was compelling. In the end, though, the other characters were pretty predictable and one-dimensional.

I also found the book kind of exhausting. A friend of mine who recently read Run commented to me that she doesn't like books that take place over a single day. I have to agree with her. I find them arduous and unrealistic. That doesn't really make sense, given how much does actually take place in a given day of anyone's life, but as a reader, I find the tension uncomfortable when there is no break in the action and the day endlessly drags on.

Like in Bel Canto, Patchett displays her wonderful writing in Run. My issues with this book lie less with the way she writes and more in what I perceive to be a lack of trust in her reader. If the characters had been less stereotyped and the plot a bit less contrived, I think the book would have been more powerful.

Book Club Girl did a radio show with Ann Patchett last night in which she answered a lot of questions about the book – check it out here. Also, there is a wonderful interview with Ann Patchett at the end of the paperback version of the book – here is a link to that interview.

I'd love to hear what everyone else thought of Run. Please add your comment!