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Patriarch Run: A Novel Paperback – October 4, 2016
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Top Customer Reviews
Instead, Patriarch Run departs sharply from the usual import of even the most gratifying and well-crafted reader-friendly fiction by forcing us to acknowledge painful truths, as well as the most compelling and important aspects of that which we cannot know. If we're honest with ourselves, when we're at our most deeply introspective we find little that consensus would judge to be noble. We often discover that we have good reason to question our motives and even doubt our fundamental decency. Patriarch Run forces us to see this by lifting the veils of narrow self-interest and perhaps unavoidable naivete. Characters who are unambiguously heroic are hard to find in Patriarch Run, and for the most part they know it. Nevertheless, Dancer shows us that if we had the breadth of knowledge and keenness of vision to see people in the total context that gives rise to their lives, the imperfections that we find in ourselves and others would be explicable as unavoidable outcomes of all that goes into making us distinctive human beings. This kind of vision, however, is not something that comes with living in our mundane world, even if we've briefly experienced a glimpse of a preternatural alternative under extraordinary circumstances.
Patriarch Run is suitably fraught with ambiguity and uncertainty. We meet characters whose commitment to a courageously patriotic life, something to which they give their all and repeatedly risk everything, learn that patriotism, as they have understood it, may set one on a fool's errand, one that causes harm and reinforces injustice rather than benefiting citizens at large. However compelling the evidence, this is a hazardous turn for an author to take in our hyper-politicized environment, especially when he finds a rough equivalence among self-promoting big governments throughout the world. It's to the author's credit that he knows that even good people with the most laudable objectives can't transform an impersonal organizational behemoth into something that we can stand by, proud and protected. Little wonder that deciding what is the right thing to do becomes so muddled in philosophical and practical difficulties in Patriarch Run. Who knows? Maybe the Neo-Malthusian catastrophe so ingeniously pursued by Jack, the father of the novel's protagonist, is the most humane way to go.
We all know that pain is a part of life, but Dancer's novel forces us to acknowledge it in inescapably personal ways that I found unnerving. The killing of a bison for what may or may not be a good reason, is such a commonplace sort of event in our carnivorous world that my almost tearful response to the head-shot death of the leader of the herd seems silly. But in Patriarch Run, death is not a remote abstraction, an unnoticed part of everyday life. It's real, painful, and deeply sad. The exchange of gunfire between Billy, the protagonist, and Jack is perfectly explicable in ways that all can see. But it dramatically emphasizes the heart-rending confusion that is an unavoidable part of life as we live it. It also illustrates the insane predicaments that can both unite and separate a father and son in a contemporary dialectic of kinship.
In a real sense, Billy has two fathers, one thoroughly admirable to the end, and the other a denatured victim of the world he sought to set right. It seems likely that if their roles had been reversed early on, they would have traded places, one becoming a contextually determined approximation of the other. Does Billy see this? And what will he make of it? Questions raised by this truly fine novel.
This story ties together a great number of crucial issues: population expansion, the proliferation of espionage activities, the nature of trust, the role of the parent, and the concept of self. But the philosophy does not interfere with the story. Quite the other way around. The story and the characters always come first. The experiences happening to the main character, an average (well, as it turns out, not so average) 17-year-old American kid named Billy, reveal the ideas in an integral way. It is only after action happens that we start questioning why.
The advantage to the reader is that we don't feel led by the nose. The author lays out the evidence, and we are able to respond as we choose.
Personally, I found it ironic that so many of the testimonials at the front of the book were from people in the military fields. My own interpretation, hyper-sensitized as I am to the prevalence of guns and the results of their misuse in America today, is that the casual presence of weapons in the hands of just about everybody, from the home level and all the way up through the military to the espionage system, is the root cause of all the problems in the story. But the characters, all believers in the system, forge blithely on, unaware of the evil deeds they are condoning.
There are no villains in this story. Everyone thinks he's the good guy. Even the Mexican drug cartel gunman is a logical, thinking human being. But when the system is broken, no amount of effort by even those with the best ideals can do anything but make things worse.
The two competing father figures in Billy's life are active players, each trying his utmost to do the right thing for the boy. You can judge for yourself how successful they are. His mother is a more reactive character, as events she cannot control play out around her and on her. And she is the character to watch, because the only solution to such a situation comes on a personal level. Belief in yourself and what you can be is about the only reaction that will allow the individual to survive such times, and the worse ones that are sure to come. Unfortunately, I am left wondering if the self that Billy has come to believe in isn't just a modern version of the good old American pioneer, whose confidence is heavily bolstered by the gun in his hand.
However dismayed I may be by the themes of the novel, I cannot deny how much I enjoyed the story and the people in it. The action scenes were tense and detailed, the characters were diverse and captivating and the flashback technique was handled seamlessly. If the writing style is slightly objective and removed from the emotions of the characters, the intensity of the situations they are placed in creates great empathy for them in a different way.
Highly recommended for the more aware Young Adult reader, and the thoughtful person interested in great writing
(“Disclaimer: This book was provided by the author or publisher without any requirement for a review, positive or otherwise. All opinions are 100% my own.”)