Saturday, November 24, 2007


On the surface Run by Ann Patchett is a simple story of two Boston families irrevocably linked by their personal histories, histories revealed moment by moment in the twenty-four hours following a traffic accident on a snowy evening.

From the inside cover flap:
Since their mother’s death, Tip and Teddy Doyle have been raised by their loving, possessive, and ambitious father. As the former mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle wants to see his sons in politics, a dream the boys have never shared. But when an argument in a blinding New England snowstorm inadvertently causes an accident that involves a stranger and her child, all Bernard Doyle cares about is his ability to keep his children—all his children—safe.

There are any number of reviews and synopses of the story available at the usual on-line sources; however, I am not including any in this post lest too many details are revealed. The simple beauty of Patchett’s story is the reader’s own discovery of the families’ details, each as intricate and unique as the snowflakes falling on Boston as the story unfolds.

Passages of Note:

Religion and the uniqueness of Boston Catholicism is one running theme. Here, Doyle on the Cathedral of the Holy Cross:
They passed the Cathedral of the Holy Cross where Bernadette’s uncle had baptized the boys, where they made their first communions and first confessions with their grade school class, and where John Sullivan came back to say the mass for Bernadette when she died. …Doyle saw the cathedral as a joyless structure, the granite Gothic Revival so massive and foreboding that it was impossible to imagine that anything as light as faith had ever existed within its walls.

I love the imagery of this passage where two men, typical of Boston, are engaging in a discussion of team loyalty while pushing a hospital gurney to its destination:
The hallway was paved in cobblestones and they banged forth over them with inhuman violence while rattling through every conversation two men could have about basketball. Full-court and half-court pickup. NBA or college ball. Eastern versus Western Division. … “Celtics? Man, tell me you’re making this up. You could not be interested in the Celtics.” The man at her feet scolded back, “Loyalty,” he said. “Loyalty. Do you even know the word?” They chattered on like women, a basketball of happy banter thrown back and forth from head to feet. They weren’t even interesting to each other. It wasn’t worth the effort it took to make sense of the words and after awhile Tennessee stopped trying. She let the voices float above her like an unbroken string of lights. People came in and stood very close beside her, not speaking to her but laughing with the basketball men. …It went on this way until they reached some ground floor in hell. “Last stop,” the man above her head said in a jolly voice. They pushed her out and bumped into another hallway, this one congested with people like herself laid out on rolling slabs. That was when the two men left her. No goodbye. No good luck. She could only tell they were going because their voices receded, dribbled off towards the edge of her vision and then disappeared.

Father Sullivan contemplates the here and now vs. the hereafter. I’ll not spoil these passages for anyone by repeating long quotes here. Suffice it to say, they are well marked in my copy of Run. Father Sullivan concludes, “What a shame it would have been to miss God while waiting for Him.”

Kenya on owning the word “gentrified:”
Kenya took inventory of the empty window boxes, the slender birch trees in the sidewalks, the stair rails fashioned in ornate ironwork. Even in the snow it all looked orderly and neat. She knew full well how lovely it would be once the purple vinca made a carpet around every tree and the geraniums filled the boxes. “But it looks nice,” she said, coming to the street’s defense. “I can think of some places not too far from here that could stand to be gentrified.” To learn a word you had to know the definition, to own the word you had to use it in a sentence.

Typical of the Irish complexion:
Sullivan was fading. The honey-colored tan he’d brought home the night before seemed to be sliding into his socks, leaving behind a mass of darkened freckles on parchment backing.


I do agree with the many comparisons made between the snow falling in the Dublin of James Joyce and the snow falling in the Boston of Ann Patchett, each in its own way the perfect backdrop for an unfolding story—“snow faintly falling through the universe and faintly falling.” Snow, after all, does cover everything in a clean blanket of white, a blanket destined to be sullied and melt away to reveal once again that which we know to be real.

Patchett’s Bel Canto has been on my “must get to” list for some time now. The joy of having read Run coupled with Lesley’s review, has moved Bel Canto into top contention for next book off the pile.

4.5 of 5 (General Reading Scale)
HarperCollins 2007
304 pages

Dedication: To my sister, Heather Patchett and my stepmother, Jerri Patchett

1 comment:

Les said...

Oh, I've been longing to read this ever since I first saw it hit the shelves at work!! Your review has convinced me to ask for it for my birthday or Christmas.

Thanks for the mention of my review. I hope you enjoy Bel Canto as much as this new one.