i have been reading, my friends, really i have. as a matter of fact, i’ve finished two (and 1/2) books this week, which is a rather good average considering that life has intruded quite rudely in several ways. a multitude of things to deal with, as usual, in the life of this ravenous reader.
certainly my life pales in comparison with the characters in Run, Ann Patchett’s latest. once again (as she did so admirably in Bel Canto) Patchett begins with one cataclysmic event and sends the ripples spreading far and wide, illuminating character and relationships in unbelievable and magic ways.
on a snowy night in Boston, Bernard Doyle is standing outside arguing with his son Tip when the driver of an SUV loses control and careens in their direction. suddenly, Tip is dashed violently to the ground – not by the impact of the vehicle, but by the force of a woman throwing herself in front of him to push him from harm’s way. this action sets in motion a chain of events, of secrets revealed and lives unraveled, that has life changing implications for the Doyle family. for the woman is actually Tip (and his brother Teddy’s) birth mother, and she lives just a stone’s throw away from the wealthy white Irish Catholic family who adopted her two sons nearly 20 years before. silently and unobtrusively, she has observed the boys lives, maintaining her sense of connection with them while raising her younger daughter, Kenya.
with this heroic action, she catapults her presence into their lives even as she lies unconscious in her hospital bed, forcing them to consider their past and future in ways they have never done before.
it is Kenya, though, who gives the book its title. Kenya, who, at the age of 11, has the ability to run like no one has ever seen. it’s not just a talent, it’s a primordial need, an ache to fly over the ground with gazelle like grace and speed. running is what she was meant to do, and she feels it with every fiber of her being.
What would it be like to know at eleven the great thing you could do? thinks Tip, watching Kenya run the Harvard track. This was what Doyle had always wanted for them: a mission, a calling. Kenya running was pure ability; strength, grace, concentration, and the odd thing was that Ip believed her skill must be transferable. It wasn’t just that he was watching her run: he was watching who she was. It seemed perfectly reasonable to think that she could take this energy and pour it into anything.
for Tip and Teddy (the smart and the sweet one respectively) think a great deal about their calling in life, their responsibility to their father and to the world. they’ve been fortunate, and they know it, raised by a prominent Boston politician, favored sons of the well known and beloved Mayor Doyle. not even Doyle’s natural son, Sullivan, garners as much attention and affection as these two small black children, adopted only a short time before Doyle’s wife Bernadette is diagnosed with cancer, sickens, and dies. their lives have become Doyle’s greatest mission, and they go to great lengths to fulfill it for him.
Run is full of convoluted connections between disparate groups of people. as she did in Bel Canto, Patchett illustrates the way these connections exist beneath the surface and can be excavated and nurtured under the right conditions.
Nothing exists in a vacuum – each moment, everything that happens in the past and present has some meaning for the future. And no one exists in a vacuum either – we are molded and influenced by the presence of everyone we’ve ever loved, or hated, or missed, or longed for.
a reviewer wrote of Bel Canto that Patchett “created her own universe.” she’s done that again in Run, for the reader becomes completely immersed in this tightly packed story which takes place over the course of 24 hours but spans a lifetime in the hearts of its characters.
by Ann Patchett
copyright 2007, by Haper Collins