Book Review: Run, by Ann Patchett

I was the only one in my book club not to like Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Since my taste is usually similar to at least some of the members I decided to give Patchett’s new book Run a chance.

Patchett depicts unconventional characters. She is good at explaining their motives, and how other characters perceive them and why. But she chose an improbable plot, and tries to accomplish too much.

The main character is the former mayor of Boston, a widower with one biological son and two adopted sons. The younger sons are in college, and all three grieve for their mother who died many years earlier. But (insert suspenseful music) the birth mother and sister of the adopted sons live in a nearby housing project and have been secretly following the lives of the family since the adoption.

One evening, all except the oldest son are on their way home in the snow from a speech by Jesse Jackson. (Both the father and the biological mother of the younger boys are Catholic and political speech junkies. They both dream of their children becoming president.) After pushing the older of her sons out of the way of an oncoming car, the mother is hit and admitted to the hospital with moderate injuries.

At the hospital (the son’s ankle was run over by the car), the spunky daughter introduces herself to the boys’ family. She allows herself to be talked into going home with them, after some discussion as to whether any authorities will try to prevent this. The widower’s family loves the girl and they all become friends instantly.

By the next morning the widower’s oldest son has visited his younger brothers’ birth mother in the hospital and told her his tragic life story. She is the first to get him to talk after all these years. We then learn about the mother’s life before and after the adoption — through a ghost, or is it an hallucination? — while under anesthesia before surgery. This went on for several pages.

Let’s quickly review the themes Patchett addresses:

  • Loss of a parent.
  • Loss of a child given up to adoption.
  • Unrealistic expectations of parents for their children.
  • Inter-racial adoption.
  • Society’s lack of protection of minority children.
  • Alienation of children from their parents.
  • Politicians as parents.

After the hallucination I gave myself permission to stop reading. I haven’t even mentioned the dead mother’ brother, a priest in a nursing home and the confidant of the youngest son, who is considering the priesthood as a career. I will have to find out the ending from someone else.

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