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run.jpgI read a lot of books and, to tell you the truth, not many of them stick with me. Sometimes I can’t even remember the ones I enjoyed. But there are a few that I remember for years. I might not remember the story-line, but I can conjure up the place where I read the book and how I felt at the time. For instance, I remember reading Robert Hellenga’s The Sixteen Pleasures on a porch overlooking the Pacific; the sun was glittering off the ocean and the pages were reflecting the sun into my face. I was sitting in an adirondack chair, drinking a glass of wine. I remember thinking how much I loved the book, the language, the place where it was set. All I can tell you is that the story was about a young woman, a book conservator, who went to Florence after a great flood in the 1960s in order to save books. But I still remember the process of reading it.

Ann Patchett’s Run is another such book. It’s the story of a family suffering through the loss of a mother; and it is the story of connections with family and strangers and what gives those relationships meaning. Bernard Doyle is a politician, a former mayor of Boston, an intellectual, a musician, but first and foremost, a father. His life is defined by his sons: the troubled Sullivan, his first son with his beloved wife Bernadette; and Tip and Teddy, African American boys adopted after Bernadette discovered she could bear no more children. Apparently Bernadette was the heart of the family. She dies when Tip and Teddy are young, leaving Doyle to raise the family alone. Doyle has complicated feelings for his sons; he has given up on Sullivan who has had trouble with the law and drugs, and inadvertantly ended his father’s polictical career in a scandalous accident. Doyle’s hopes are now pinned on the younger boys. Hoping to ignite their desire to serve, he coerces them into going to a Jesse Jackson lecture. Tip is resentful. He wants to spend all his time pursuing his passion – icthyology – the study of fish. Teddy is compliant, though late. He has been visiting his revered uncle Sullivan, a priest. As all three file out of the lecture and into a Boston snowstorm, Tip turns to confront his father, to tell him that he will no longer give up his study time to indulge his father’s love of politics. Wrapped up in the moment, he fails to see the oncoming SUV. From nearby, a woman, a stranger, pushes Tip out of the way and is hit herself.

The woman is Tennesee; unbeknownst to the Doyle family, she has been stalking them. Tip and Teddy are her biological sons. She and her daughter, Kenya, have spent their lives on the periphery of the boys’ world. 11 year-old Kenya amuses herself by making up stories about her brothers’ lives. The two families live no more than 10 minutes walk from each other but they are separated by opportunity, money, education, class and race. When the Doyles take Kenya in after her mother’s accident, they must comtemplate the wide chasm created by wealth and privlege.

Ann Patchett’s writing is smooth. There are times when a reader struggles through the construct of sentences to get to an author’s meaning, and when the reader is very aware of the process of reading – I think I’ve given a good example of that here! Patchett’s writing is so clean that one is hardly aware of the words on the page – the story seems almost to seep into the brain through osmosis. The characters are vivid and engaging. As Tennesee and Kenya spy on the boys, you get the sense that, as a reader, you too are stalking these people, looking in on their intimate lives.

I think I’ll probably remember reading about snowy Boston while lying on my couch, trying to keep warm under a huddle of blankets, for years to come.

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