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Run Hardcover – September 25, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
SignatureReviewed by Andrew O'HaganNovelists can no longer take it as an insult when people say their novels are like good television, because the finest American television is better written than most novels. Ann Patchett's new one has the texture, the pace and the fairy tale elegance of a half dozen novels she might have read and loved growing up, but the magic and the finesse of Run is really much closer to that of Six Feet Under or ER or The Sopranos, and that is good news for everybody, not least her readers.Bernadette and Bernard Doyle were a Boston couple who wanted to have a big lively family. They had one boy, Sullivan, and then adopted two black kids, Teddy and Tip. Mr. Doyle is a former mayor of Boston and he continues his interest in politics, hoping his boys will shape up one day for elected office, though none of them seems especially keen. Bernadette dies when the adopted kids are just four, and much of the book offers a placid requiem to her memory in particular and to the force of motherhood in lives generally. An old statue from Bernadette's side of the family seems to convey miracles, and there will be more than one before this gracious book is done. One night, during a heavy snowfall, Teddy and Tip accompany their father to a lecture given by Jessie Jackson at the Kennedy Centre. Tip is preoccupied with studying fish, so he feels more than a little coerced by his father. After the lecture they get into an argument and Tip walks backwards in the road. A car appears out of nowhere and so does a woman called Tennessee, who pushes Tip out of the car's path and is herself struck. Thus, a woman is taken to hospital and her daughter, Kenya, is left in the company of the Doyles. Relationships begin both to emerge and unravel, disclosing secrets, hopes, fears. Run is a novel with timeless concerns at its heart—class and belonging, parenthood and love—and if it wears that heart on its sleeve, then it does so with confidence. And so it should: the book is lovely to read and is satisfyingly bold in its attempt to say something patient and true about family. Patchett knows how to wear big human concerns very lightly, and that is a continuing bonus for those who found a great deal to admire in her previous work, especially the ultra-lauded Bel Canto. Yet one should not mistake that lightness for anything cosmetic: Run is a book that sets out inventively to contend with the temper of our times, and by the end we feel we really know the Doyle family in all its intensity and with all its surprises.Andrew O'Hagan's novel Be Near Me has just been published by Harcourt.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Ann Patchett writes about families-from The Patron Saint of Liars (1992), in which young, unwed mothers become family, to Bel Canto (2001), in which hostages and their kidnappers forms unexpected bonds. Beautifully written, Run again explores family, this time through the lenses of birth, class, and race. While mainly a domestic drama, Run also touches on larger themes-such as social exclusion, privilege, and obligation; politics; and religion and the afterlife. Critics overall lauded Patchett's thematic depth, though a couple of reviewers noted her failure to delve deeply enough. And while most characters-particularly Kenya-captivated them, a few also described them as unrealistically sympathetic. Despite these minor complaints, Run is, at best, that rare, mature work that exquisitely dissects human relationships and possibilities.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
Ann Patchett has written her sixth book in the framework of a family and how the end justify the means. Each character is a study in love and the affection they have for each other. The gifts that are given by these people to each other is overflowing with meaning.
Doyle, an ex-mayor of Boston had given up his office, voluntarily, but in the realm of disgrace. His profession in politics was his love, and he had hoped that one of his sons would follow in his footsteps. On this cold winter's night he brings his two younger sons, Tip and Teddy to hear Jesse Jackson. Doyle's hope was that Jesse would put the 'fire' of politics in one of his sons. Tip and Teddy had been adopted as infants. Doyle and his wife, Bernadette had one son, Sullivan, and wanted more, and when the chance to adopt a black baby came they grabbed it. They then found his brother, 14 months old was also available, and their family became complete, or almost. Within a short period of time, Bernadette, the love of Doyle's life, became ill with cancer and subsequently died. Doyle was left to bring up the boys on his own.
On this night, Tip who goes to Harvard and is studying Ichthyology finally becomes tired of Doyle pushing his political preference in his face, and he starts an arguement with Doyle. It becomes more heated than either wanted, and Tip turns to go and walks in front of an on-coming car.
He is saved by a black woman who pushes him out of the way. She is injured and rushed to the hospital. Not knowing the extent of her injuries as of yet, Doyle volunteers to care for the woman's young daughter. A full family at best. Now the issues of the past come to haunt the entire family, and some answers must be found. Tip and Teddy must come to terms with their past. And, Doyle must answer to his children.
The life we lead is sometimes not what we think it is. The past may come to haunt us and decisions made for us and before us may not be what we want. Ann Patchett has the ability of taking a simple plot and making it into something it is not. The family and its center is the important aspect of her writing. This book was simplistic in plot, and the message was easy to grasp. It is a good novel, not one of her best, but enjoyable. After 'Bel Canto' the expectations were very high. There is something missing here and the plot though well devised is not as satisfying. But Ann Patchett's writing makes up for any deficit in plot- she is glorious in her use of the written word. Much to be admired.
I had read Bel Canto, and enjoyed it immensely--a deceptively easy read considering its implications--and, having read a pan of Run in NEWSWEEK, I decided to pass. Then I reconsidered. It was a one-day novel, something every aspiring writer seems compelled to write these days. The NEWSWEEK review turned snide toward the end, snarking that one-day novels were best left to the likes of Ian McEwan. What had Patchett done to deserve such a caustic remark?
In the end, and to put it simply, Patchett did know the ins and outs of the one-day form. She established her conflict quickly, leading seamlessly into her characters' pasts through inventive technique as she nudged the plot forward ever so slowly. What dismayed me wasn't this sort of agile strategizing. Instead, she failed Creative Writing 101. Her sentence structures are clunky, her dialogue trite, even abysmally so, as lightweight as listening to someone else's cell phone conversation on the bus home from work. Her character portrayals were inconsistent, empty, unreal, and she jumped from one character's point of view to another with vertiginous speed. All this leaving the story and characters sketchy and malformed, despite a plot that should've worked.
Okay, a bit about the plot. WASPish former mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle, has adopted two black boys, and raised them successfully. One, Tip, is an ichthyologist (see what I mean about stretching the bounds of credibility? Who wants to study fish, anyway? And who cares? Only Philip Roth could make that an interesting character turn.) And Dad is now trying to hustle the other son, Teddy, into politics. Tip is nearly run down and might have died, had not a middle-aged black woman (who, as it turns out, is his biological mother) pushed him to safety, at great peril to her own life. But the plot is quickly thickened (or so I hoped) by the presence of these two young men's biological sister, Kenya, who was with the mother and tries to tend to her after being injured. These family ties bared, Tip and Teddy try to figure out what to make of these newfound relationships.
Unfortunately, the two brothers don't succeed, largely because Patchett doesn't seem to know what to make of the new relationship herself. The brother-sister meet-up is meant to portray glaring disparities between Boston's elite and its underclass, something Nick Flynn has done admirably, but it's clear that Patchett has no grip on either class.
Which leaves me to wonder what happened to Patchett?. Was this a manuscript written early in her apprenticeship, before Bel Canto? Did she have editorial help with Bel Canto, help sorely missing here? Did she simply slap something together for Run, thinking she could coast on her reputation? Only she knows, I'm afraid.
I wanted to like Run, and tried desperately to do so. And in the last fifty pages, the talent she displayed in Bel Canto began to surface, leaving hope that Patchett isn't a one-hit wonder.
So Ann, if you're listening, I can only say I'm disappointed. I hope the pan reviews for Run serve as a trip to the woodshed, that you'll go back to your computer sufficiently chastened, determined to pound out another piece with the talent of Bel Canto.
Posted by bobmust at 7:53 AM 0 comments