RUN by Ann Patchett

PatchettThe EDIWTB book club pick for September was Run, by Ann Patchett. Run is the story of the Doyle family, a former mayor of Boston and his three sons – Sullivan, Tip and Teddy. Tip and Teddy, African-American brothers, were adopted by Doyle (I am not sure we ever learn his first name) and his late wife Bernadette when they were very young. Bernadette died of cancer when the boys were still young, and they were raised by Doyle in a large old house in Boston and afforded all of the benefits of affluence.

When the book opens, Tip and Teddy are late to meet their father for a lecture by Jesse Jackson at Harvard. Much to Doyle's chagrin, neither boy is interested in politics, and they reluctantly attend the lecture only out of loyalty to their father. It's a snowy Boston night, and a freak accident after the lecture brings the threesome into contact with Kenya, an 11-year old girl, and her mother Tennessee – two people that, it turns out, are intimately connected to the family. The book follows the next 24 hours, with Tennessee in the hospital due to injuries sustained in the accident and the Doyle family coming to terms with her and Kenya's existence.

In an interview in the back of the edition I read, Ann Patchett said that to her, the book was about politics. To me, it was about identity. In Run, there are children whose mothers have died, children who never knew their mothers, and children who believed their mothers were someone other than who they really were. The book explores how these kids – grown or not – established their sense of belonging and self based on who raised them, and whom they gravitated toward as family.  It also conversely examines the notion of parenthood – what constitutes a parent? Is it simply genetics, or a history of nurturing and love? What role does race play in parenting and familial identity? There are clearly nature vs nurture issues at play here, which are interesting to trace and analyze.

I am an Ann Patchett fan, so I had high hopes for this book. I thought that Bel Canto was about as close to a perfect novel as I have ever read. However, I just didn't love this book, for a couple of reasons. First, I found the plot somewhat contrived and the characters bordering on stereotypes – the Irish Catholic politician, the wayward rebellious politician's son, the noble single mom, the African-American track star. Tip and Teddy were a little more interesting to me, probably because as the black adopted sons of a white politician, they could have turned out a number of ways. Their strong bond despite their innate differences was compelling. In the end, though, the other characters were pretty predictable and one-dimensional.

I also found the book kind of exhausting. A friend of mine who recently read Run commented to me that she doesn't like books that take place over a single day. I have to agree with her. I find them arduous and unrealistic. That doesn't really make sense, given how much does actually take place in a given day of anyone's life, but as a reader, I find the tension uncomfortable when there is no break in the action and the day endlessly drags on.

Like in Bel Canto, Patchett displays her wonderful writing in Run. My issues with this book lie less with the way she writes and more in what I perceive to be a lack of trust in her reader. If the characters had been less stereotyped and the plot a bit less contrived, I think the book would have been more powerful.

Book Club Girl did a radio show with Ann Patchett last night in which she answered a lot of questions about the book – check it out here. Also, there is a wonderful interview with Ann Patchett at the end of the paperback version of the book – here is a link to that interview.

I'd love to hear what everyone else thought of Run. Please add your comment!

27 Comments

  • September 25, 2008 - 1:14 am | Permalink

    I loved the book, LOVED it! Reading run really made me want to pick up Bel Canto for sure.The words Patchett uses to communicate really spoke to me.
    I have one question about the book. For some reason I felt the character of Sullivan, was a mystery awaiting more explanation throughout the entire book. I caught glimpses of him,and was intrigued, but then he was tucked away again…why was there not a more in depth portrayal of Sullivan?
    Thanks Gayle for this lovely read!!! Stunning for sure 🙂

  • September 25, 2008 - 7:25 am | Permalink

    Oh, Bethany asked my question! Since Sullivan was also motherless why wasn’t he ‘fleshed out’ as the other children were?
    I’m not a fan of the extremely short time span novel either (and I don’t watch 24 on tv) so I didn’t enjoy that about this book. Not my favorite Patchett book. Glad I read it though. Thanks Gayle!

  • Katie
    September 25, 2008 - 8:35 am | Permalink

    I didn’t particularly mind the book happens in 24-hours part, especially since is laden with flashbacks. I also agree that Sullivan could have been more fleshed out; finding out more about the accident was one of the things that kept me reading.
    My favorite character, I think, was Kenya; I thought she had a compelling combination of bravery and vulnerability. I was also interested in Teddy’s relationship with Father Sullivan, though I wasn’t sure how to read his power of touch; while the spleen injury was very plausible, I didn’t know what to do with the miracles that kept cropping up in this story.
    I agree with Gayle about the stereotypes that crop up in this book, but I enjoyed Ms. Patchett’s style and I found parts of the plot quite engaging (especially the mysterious parts). Overall this book was an enjoyable read for me.

  • September 25, 2008 - 10:21 am | Permalink

    i have not read it yet, but i have to say i thought bel canto was ok, i didn’t love that

  • Miriam
    September 25, 2008 - 10:53 am | Permalink

    I agree with Gayle about this book, Run. I liked it and wanted to keep reading but didn’t love it. I am trying to figure out what it was that made this not a home run. I do agree with the 24 hour period time frame- it is exhausting. I did love Kenya and found her to be such an engaging and sympathetic character. I would love to see her run! And I did like the ending scene.
    Thank you Gayle for this opportunity.
    Miriam

  • September 25, 2008 - 11:00 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this book. Patchett’s style is just engaging and fun to read. It’s literary without being condescending. I read the book in one day and was fully enmeshed in the story and the characters.
    I was most taken with the “child” characters: Sullivan, Tip, Teddy, and Kenya. I do wish that Sullivan was more fleshed out. He was set up to be a very interesting character, and I wanted to know more. I just loved Tip and Teddy and Kenya and desperately wanted things to work out for them.
    I loved the statue and the allegorical beginning to the story. I’m sure there are many different interpretations, but, to me, the statue primarily represents motherhood and womanhood. One thing I came away with was that any woman can be a mother, if they nurture a child.
    QUESTION: Was there a statue or story that the statue in the book was based on?
    In all, I thought this was an excellent book. I’m going to pitch it to my face-to-face book club tonight.
    My full review can be found here: http://thebluestockings.com/2008/09/run/

  • September 25, 2008 - 11:08 am | Permalink

    I really liked the book. I finished it last night, and was sad to see it end. I loved discovering the different meanings of run – the political, away from problems, and the physical running – and some I’m sure I haven’t figured out yet. I haven’t had time to sort out all my thoughts yet.

  • September 25, 2008 - 11:16 am | Permalink

    I had a hard time getting into this book. To me, it just took too long to get going. I felt as if it was heading somewhere and then would veer off into another direction.
    I wanted to hear more about Sullivan. His relationship with his father was so strange. There was talk of the “accident” but I didn’t feel that there was any closure there and it bothered me that Doyle took such an affinity to his adopted boys, but left his own son with just a shell of a father.
    Without giving too much away, I also had a hard time with the part where Tennessee speaks to Tennesee. It seemed to be used as a mechanism to share Tennessee’s story. Given the ending it made more sense to me, but seemed to come out of nowhere.
    However, I loved all of the characters and felt they were well developed. I especially liked Father Sullivan and Kenya and her yearnings to be a part of that family touched me.
    Overall, I enjoyed the book and would read another novel by Patchett.

  • Stephanie C.
    September 25, 2008 - 11:49 am | Permalink

    I had a tough time with this book. It was hard to get into and keep my attention. When I wasn’t reading it there wasn’t really anything drawing me back to it. I think part of that problem can be summed up like this: When I was around page 90 or so my husband asked what it was about…. and my answer was “I guess I’m not sure yet.” And really, it was a little late in the game to be thinking that.
    I guess I sort of felt like I picked up a book in the middle somewhere and got a snippet of another novel. It left me wondering what is the point of this book.
    I will say though, that her writing was really good and I may try another one of her novels, as this was my first, to see if this was just a fluke.

  • September 25, 2008 - 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed the book, I just wish there has been more of Sullivan’s story. He was such an intriguing character, and so much more could have been done with him. Regardless, I liked the story, and the 24-hour span didn’t bother me at all. I too didn’t think the book was about politics, but made me think about the definition of family and motherhood.

  • September 25, 2008 - 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I’m so glad reading all the comments that I’m not the only one who wasn’t bowled over by *Run*!
    Gayle, like you, I loved *Bel Canto*. I think that is a stellar book and it makes it a tough benchmark for any other book of Patchett’s to be compared to. I felt the same when I read *The Magician’s Assistant*; it was well-written, but the story itself felt not as solid (again, comparing to the great satisfaction I got when reading *Bel Canto*).
    I really liked Kenya’s character – whether it was her sweet innocence, or seeing her discover her “brothers” face-to-face after so many years of seeing them from a distance…
    I did like the intro story about the statue, its similar physical appearance to the woman in Bernadette’s family, and the way it was passed down through the women in the family.
    I’ll post my full review in a few days.
    Thanks for hosting this, Gayle!

  • September 25, 2008 - 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s interesting how those who loved Bel Canto tend to not like Run as much. And then there are some of us who didn’t care for Bel Canto (I’ve tried to read it twice) and loved Run. I liked the short time frame. I enjoyed the scene with the Tennesee’s in the hospital…that was an unexpected twist. And I like all the different meanings of Run…at first I thought the title was awful, but the more I read, the more I thought it was the perfect choice. I posted more about the book (especially the title) here: http://fizzybeverage.blogspot.com/2008/09/run.html
    But, like bethany, I wanted to know more about Sullivan…we got a glimpse of everyone’s future, except his.

  • Jenn J
    September 25, 2008 - 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this book. While I was intrigued by the families, their interactions, and their effects on each other, I feel like I need more.
    As many of you were, I was also most interested in Sullivan. I felt like he was most cheated, and made to feel that he should be eternally grateful, that he owed them something. And I felt for Kenya and Tennessee. I enjoyed when the two Tennessee’s were talking. When they were talking about losing their children I was completely engrossed.
    Patchett’s writing is among my favorites, but this book was just lacking something. I had a hard time describing the book to people, I never quite knew what to say. Thanks, Gayle!!

  • Kori
    September 25, 2008 - 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading Run but I wasn’t completely engrossed in it ever. I wanted to learn more about Sullivan’s character – I wish Ann Patchett had developed him more. I like Tip’s character because he wasn’t so one dimensional. I also wish that Tip and Teddy had been given more of a chance to spend time with Tennessee. That would have been an interesting, gripping scene. I’m sad that this book isn’t one that will stay with me for a while.

  • September 25, 2008 - 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I agreed that some of the characters bordering on stereotypes. I liked the book for the most part, but I was wondering at the names….like teddy as in bear and he is equally easy going. kenya is african-american and likes to run and is very good at it. I just wonder if they could have had different names, similar circumstances, and different races. I’m not sure that the mixed race family was necessary considering all the other plot twists in this book.
    I enjoyed the book for the most part, but there were passages that I found distracting, especially those dealing with Father Sullivan.

  • September 25, 2008 - 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I really would also have preferred more of Sullivan, and maybe Patchett should have focused more on him. His dynamic personality would make a great novel.

  • September 25, 2008 - 7:33 pm | Permalink

    I also was wondering about the continued references to the cold winters in New England and the snow. Does this family thaw out!

  • TLB
    September 25, 2008 - 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I was disappointed in this book. I felt that the themes were too ambitious: race/class/adoption/mother-father-child issues/careers/politics. The plot was too disjointed for me and the characters were never fully developed because there were too many of them with too many issues. I think this must have started as a much longer book and in the end the author chose every 5th chapter and cobbled together a book.
    One positive:
    Some of the writing in this book was lyrical, especially the winter scenes in Boston; the descriptions of running; and the cozy descriptions of Doyle’s house.

  • September 25, 2008 - 9:17 pm | Permalink

    I actually enjoyed this book better than Bel Canto. The characters were definitely stereotypes, but I still found them believable and in many ways interesting. I actually liked that Sullivan was left a bit of a mystery. It seemed to suit him and his character to not tell everything. I felt like I learned enough to satisfied me and not reveal too much to make him seem ordinary.
    Keyna’s character was definitely my favorite. She was beautifully written, very compelling. I loved that everyone fell in love with her within the 24 hours, and that’s probably why I liked it happening within 24 hours. (Whereas I felt that Bel Canto really dragged on over a longer time period than I was expecting.) It did seem fast paced, but with a title like Run, I was expecting fast paced. I also liked the many ways the title Run could be interpreted.
    What I didn’t like was the twist about Tennessee and the other Tennessee. I felt that it didn’t add anything to the story, and instead felt like a twist just to have a twist. (I also felt that the end of Bel Canto had a similar twist just to have a twist.) The twists just felt unnecessary and I felt it detracted from a really good story in its own right.
    BTW, Doyle’s first name was Bernard, which I thought was really strange and did a doubletake because his wife’s name was Bernadette.

  • September 25, 2008 - 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Good discussion…I have about 50 more pages to go…will be back with my thoughts after I finish reading the book.

  • September 25, 2008 - 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I was a little put off by the pairing of Bernard and Bernadette, name-wise.
    I just posted my review of the book here:
    http://diaryofaneccentric.blogspot.com/2008/09/run-by-ann-patchett.html
    And I added your link to mine, Gayle. Thanks for hosting the discussion!

  • Sarah
    September 25, 2008 - 10:58 pm | Permalink

    I read “Run” a few months ago but would still like to weigh in. I found the novel rather disappointing. Like so many others, I loved “Bel Canto.” Perhaps it’s unfair to hold Patchett to such a high standard, but “Run” paled in comparison, in my opinion. While “Bel Canto” was full of subtleties and innuendo, “Run” struck me as a book read in a high school English class where all of the imagery and symbolism hit you in the face. There is little for the reader to uncover; the author does it all for us. While it seemed to me that Patchett was trying to be original with some of her themes, they weren’t explored enough to be subtle. While it is interesting and unusual to observe a father who clearly favors his adopted African American sons over his biological son, conceived with his beloved late wife, I feel as though Patchett could have engaged her readers better on this topic. But she doesn’t encourage her readers to ponder this in any kind of a complex or subtle way. I found this disappointing. Each story within the book seems unfinished to me.
    Serena — Teddy and Tip are named after beloved Irish Catholic Boston politicians: Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neil.

  • September 26, 2008 - 7:21 am | Permalink

    Nicely written review!
    I finished reading Run last week, and posted a very brief review here: http://mangomissives.wordpress.com/2008/09/25/reads-run/

  • Amy Weiswasser
    September 26, 2008 - 7:42 am | Permalink

    okay…you have all written so eloquenly. I can’t really do that, so I’ll be brief and to the point. Loved Bel Canto… Run…not so much. Ann Patchett is a fabulous writer, but I needed more. Had a VERY hard time getting into this, or caring as much as I would have liked to. Gayle, as always, thanks for the books, the discussions and the great blog!

  • Michelle B
    September 26, 2008 - 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I am late getting my review posted, and after reading everyone else’s, most of the points I was going to make have already been well discussed.
    I liked, but did not love, Run. I had a question for Ms. Patchett, but did not get to ask her in the call in radio show. I wanted to know why she added the subplot of (Beverly) Tennessee taking on the identity of the original Tennessee and why she chose to tell their story through a ‘hallucination’. That seemed so over the top to me … I didn’t think it needed to be added to the already complicated story.
    Thanks Gayle for hosting this discussion!

  • September 26, 2008 - 4:21 pm | Permalink

    My thoughts:
    Ms. Patchett is an author I’ve had exposure to simply by seeing her work mentioned throughout the book blogging community. Several places have raved about Bel Canto though I’ve haven’t read it myself. I always got this feeling that her books wouldn’t appeal to me. There I was not wrong. I don’t enjoy reading fiction that I feel has a ‘message’ hidden somewhere in the story. I find myself spending more time actually trying to figure out what it is that author wants me ‘to get’ then I do enjoying the story. My mind is wandering off exploring, digging around instead staying focused. I actually got more out of this book from reading the author interview about her ‘purpose’ for writing this story then I did from the story itself. I found her insight into her thoughts behind this book enlightening and wish I’d read that part beforehand. I didn’t, though, because sometimes those interviews can contain plot line spoilers.
    Background ~ two brothers, Tip & Teddy, of ethnic origin are adopted at a young age by a white city mayor and his wife who already have one son. Current time ~ by fate, and tragic circumstances, all three brothers and their father meet the mother, and her daughter, of the 2 adopted brothers. We come to find out that Kenya, the daughter, is familiar with her brothers because her mother has been keeping tabs on them for past 15+ years. On the other hand the brothers find their lives turned upside down by a mother and sister that they’ve had no previous contact with or knowledge of. Over the next 24 hours complex family relationships are explored.
    Ms. Patchett writes well and I can see why a legion of readers are attracted to her work. When she is simply telling a story she does a wonderful job ~ such as the track scene in the college gym with Tip and Kenya or Kenya testing Tip about the fish names. But the book goes off track, for me, when she starts exploring the deeper family ties and expectations of a father for his sons. When Doyle drags his sons to yet another political speech because he has dreams for his boys or Teddy follows his father’s dream for him instead of his heart.
    Overall I’d say I’m split in on this one ~ I didn’t love it but then again I didn’t dislike enough to put it down.
    Original post: http://printedpage.wordpress.com/2008/09/26/ediwtb-online-bc-selection-run
    Reading this book has inspired me to write another post about my expectations from books and reading (coming shortly).

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