The opening segment of Ann Patchett’s 2007 novel, Run, is so beautifully written that it made me wish for a whole novel focused on that period of Bernadette Doyle’s family history. That segment recounts the origin of an old statue that has been handed down through several generations of one family to the daughter who most closely resembles the face of the statue – only to finally land in a section of the family having only three sons whose father refuses to pass it on to a family branch that actually includes a daughter. This little statue, so prominent in the book’s opening pages, will play a key role in its final ones, as well.
Bernadette and Bernard Doyle want to fill their Boston home with children but they are able to produce only one son, Sullivan, before they turn to adoption to add to their family. The couple ends up adopting two black brothers, one barely a toddler, the other a newborn, whom they rename Teddy and Tip in homage to the state’s political heritage. After Bernadette’s tragic death, Doyle will raise the boys on his on, all the while seriously hoping that at least one of them will become President of the United States someday.
All goes to plan until the snowy evening that Tip’s life is saved by the woman who pushes him from the path of a car about to crush him. Sadly, this woman (called Tennessee, “like the state”) takes the full impact of the vehicle and, when she is rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment, her eleven-year-old daughter, Kenya, is left behind. What Kenya gradually reveals to the Doyles when they take her home with them that night, will change all of their lives forever.
Run covers a lot of ground. Its major themes involve family (particularly interracial ones), class, poverty, social responsibility, religion, and politics. It is filled with memorable characters, but I suspect that most readers will choose young Kenya as their favorite of the lot. If the book has a real weakness, it is that several of the characters seem too good to be true – even Sullivan, the black sheep of the family, who wanders back to Boston on the very night that Kenya enters the household. It should be noted also that, while Patchett makes a valiant effort to contrast Kenya’s home life to that of the Doyle boys, her version of Kenya’s life in the ghetto of government housing fails to give a clear sense of the very real horrors and dangers of such an environment.
That said, Run is an enjoyable novel, one that probably generated much discussion in 2007 book club meetings. Despite its subject, it is a relatively light read that can be enjoyed by adults and YA readers alike.
Rated at: 4.0