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Pickle Me This

October 13, 2007

Run by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s new novel Run creates the effect of a snowglobe. First: the snow. A winter storm has coated Boston in white, and as the city’s former mayor Bernard Doyle and his sons Tip and Teddy emerge from a lecture, their vision is obscured. They can’t see enough to even understand each other, and in the midst of an argument Tip steps into the path of a car.

Next: the globe. Tip has been pushed out of the car’s path by a mysterious woman who is hit instead. Her young daughter Kenya, taking care to collect her mother’s scattered things, clearly possesses a wisdom beyond her eleven years, and through various circumstances she is taken into the Doyles’ care. And it seems that she knows them well, their unique history. In the limited construct of this globe, everything is connected.

Kenya knews that Tip and Teddy are the black adopted sons of Doyle and his late wife Bernadette, who also had an older son, whose own disgrace became his fathers’. As Kenya’s mother lies in her hospital bed, secrets are revealed, connections are established, chance is batted about, and lives change. Class and racial lines are underlined and also revealed as rootless. Patchett explores themes of family, the tragedy of motherlessness, she writes of goodness, and who it is we dream our dreams for.

Stepping away from this book, there are problems. Not the connections, necessarily, or the coincidence or chance– this is the stuff of real life, and rings false only in fiction. But the limitations of a story in a bubble are obvious– the outside world knocks at the glass, but it’s not invited in. Patchett is a wonderful writer whose exposition reads like a tale, but it also left me wanting to see her characters outside their confines. I felt as though this story was just stretching its legs.

But. Stepping away from this book, I say, I saw the problems. But I almost couldn’t do that– step away, put it down. Run was intensely readable from start to finish, enjoyable and not in a cheap way. Problems and all. These characters were sketched in such detail, there were moments of sheer beauty, the pace and construction of Patchett’s story was at times mesmerizing– yes, like that snow globe. The scene inside may not be life, but you shake it up and watch it anyway.

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