Okay, go ahead and call me out for having Alan Greenspan’s book in my sidebar as “on my nightstand” for the last month. Technically, it is on my nightstand. Also, it’s a pretty good read. I bought the book because he impresses me so much in interviews. Something about listening to him reminds me of my favorite professors and makes me long to go back to school. I don’t always agree with his politics, but I greatly respect his mind. Very few public figures warrant respect these days.
When I started that book, I even had intense, however fleeting fantasies about going back to school to get a degree in economics. Right. Not going to happen. Fiction calls to me, and I always answer. I had Run on the stack right underneath poor Mr. Greenspan’s book, and every time I lifted that tome to read, I would think, “I could just read a few pages of Run…just a taste…” Not exactly the equivalent of RyKrisp versus chocolate for a chronic dieter, but close enough to warrant mention.
Clearly, Run won. I’ve read three-and-a-half other Ann Patchett novels (The Patron Saint of Liars, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, and half of Taft–not sure anymore why I didn’t finish that one) and Truth and Beauty, her memoir about her friendship with Lucy Grealy. While she’s not one of my favorite writers, to pick up one of her books is to be completely absorbed in the story she tells. She also writes cleanly and gracefully. I am not much for showy prose (uh, my own excepted, of course…tee hee hee).
Run, which except for the last chapter takes place in the course of twenty-four snowy and cold hours in Boston, is the story of the Doyle family: Bernard, the ex-mayor; Sullivan, his ne’er-do-well natural son; and Tip and Teddy, Bernard’s two adopted black sons. An accident happens and shakes their world. Secrets are revealed, sometimes between the characters, sometimes only to the reader. If I’m honest, the plot is not much better than something written for the Hallmark Channel. It’s unlikely, it’s sappy, it plays on the emotions in much the same way. (Tears, followed by an embarrassed gulp and the thought, “Why am I crying? This is stupid.”)
What renders it readable, then? Ann Patchett is a first-rate writer, and her characters are likable. And while she’s got you…well, she’s really got you. Her characters are like people you meet in random situations–at a conference, say, or when you’re stuck in an airport–and you find you really like them, and you have warm feelings for them for hours afterward. You may have exchanged information and agreed to meet for lunch someday. Days later, you’ve forgotten all about them. In fact, it’s not until you’re in that situation again–at the conference, stuck at the airport–that you remember them, briefly, fondly, and wonder vaguely what might have become of them. You had such a good time with those people! Real connections were made! But then you get on with the business at hand.
All in all, Run was thoroughly entertaining and well-written, but it’s not her best book, in my opinion. For me, Bel Canto still holds that place, and so far it’s the only one of her books (except Truth and Beauty, actually, which is very good for a memoir, particularly because it’s so anti-navel-gazing–a rarity) I would re-read.
You can read the New York Times review here.
*image from Powells