Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Another Triumph for Ann Patchett

Run, Ann Patchett

Run tackles so many different issues so effortlessly—interracial families, adoption, the untimely death of a parent or spouse, a crisis of faith, and the question of what to do with one’s life—that one wonders whether Ann Patchett started out to write an “issue novel” and came up with this pretty meditation on an unconventional family instead.

But it is clear on reflection that her story flows from her characters rather than causes—and what intriguing characters they are! The former mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle, who adopted two black sons, lost his wife Bernadette to cancer, left office under a cloud, and lost his relationship with his biological son. That son, Sullivan, who fled to Africa for reasons that only become clear late in the book. The two adopted sons, Tip and Teddy, both fortunate in their adopted circumstances but chafing under the pressure of their widowed father’s expectations. And their uncle, Father Sullivan, whose dotage as an aging priest is interrupted by those who believe he is a miraculous healer.

Their lives are changed in one night when they meet Tennessee and her daughter, Kenya. With a random accident in a snowstorm as her jumping-off point, Patchett slowly reveals one character’s secret after another, and as the characters come to terms with who they are and what they have done, the drama of decades of family life settles into a new and improved status quo.

To reveal more would spoil the numerous surprises Patchett plants throughout the novel, though even a thorough foreknowledge of the plot would not diminish the enjoyment of reading the prose. The dialogue rings true, while Patchett’s descriptions—be they of a setting, a facial expression, a memory—are lyrical and lovely.

Readers who come to this via Bel Canto will be pleased; if anything Patchett is in even better form. If she keeps up at this rate, she may well write the great American novel next—if she hasn’t already. Highly recommended.

This review has been posted on Run will be released October 1 and was provided for review early as part of Amazon's Vine program.

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