Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Run

At least 90% of the novels I read are by women—usually British women who wrote in the early to middle twentieth century, like Elizabeth Taylor, Rose Macaulay, Margery Sharp, and Sylvia Townsend Warner. I also love the late Carol Shields, the American-born Canadian novelist. Every now and then I'll read a novel by a contemporary American woman novelist that I really like—Nicole Krauss's stunning The History of Love comes instantly to mind—but that's rare. There are many fine women novelists in America—big names like Minneapolis-born Anne Tyler, Anna Quindlen, Alice Hoffman, Jane Hamilton—but for some reason most of their novels have never really grabbed me. The exception is Ann Patchett. I loved Bel Canto, I adored The Magician's Assistant, and I was head-over-heels for her latest novel, Run.

The novel centers around the family of Bernard Doyle, a former mayor of Boston, who with his late wife adopted two African-American sons, named Tip and Teddy. He wants his sons to become politicians, but Teddy wants to be a priest and Tip wants to study fish. Then one snowy night, after a Jesse Jackson speech at Harvard, an accident changes the Doyle family's lives forever. Yes, it sounds like it could be a bit contrived and heavy on message—and there is an element of that—but Patchett writes so beautifully and has such a light touch that I, for one, was entirely swept away by the story. She comes so close to magical realism—there's a hint of miracle cures performed by a nonagenarian priest—but in the end the real miracles are in human relationships, in people opening up to one another. Like so many novels by women, Run is about family—about the many different ways of belonging to other people. And it's about how standing back and being amazed by someone else can help to bring your own life into focus. Bel Canto was a huge bestseller a few years ago, but in many ways I like Run more, if only because Patchett seemed to have a surer sense of how to end it—with a lovely image of inclusiveness, of how turning toward the outsider can strengthen us on the inside and, despite our differences, bring us together.

2 comments:

tom said...

Great review. Your blog has been added to the "local links" blogroll at www.rivercitybooksonline.com

-The River City Raven

tomswift said...

Rob,

I'm a rarity, I assume, in that I read Run first and only recently finished Bel Canto. Given the otherworldly success of the latter book I was surprised that I didn't enjoy it more. No doubt Patchett is a terrific writer. I love her prose. I just never felt the terrorists were threatening. Too, the fact they were all allowed to remain inside the mansion for several months seemed implausible.

Or maybe that's just me?

Tom Swift

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