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Run (Patchett)

Run 
Ann Patchett, 2007
HarperCollins
295 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061340642


Summary
It's a winter evening in Boston and the temperature has drastically dropped as a blizzard approaches the city. On this fateful night, Bernard Doyle plans to meet his two adopted sons, Tip the older, and more serious, and Teddy, the affectionate dreamer, at a Harvard auditorium to hear a speech given by Jesse Jackson.

Doyle, an Irish Catholic and former Boston mayor, has done his best to keep his two sons interested in politics, from the day he and his now deceased wife became their parents, through their childhoods, and now in their lives as college students. Though the two boys are African-American, the bonds of the family's love have never been tested. But as the snow begins to falls, an accident triggers into motion a series of events that will forever change their lives.

This is at its very center, a novel about what truly defines family and the lengths we will go to protect our children. Patchett beautifully weaves together seemingly disparate lives to show how intimately humans can connect. Stunning and powerful, Run is sure to engage any Patchett fan and bring her even more admirers. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—December 02, 1963
Where—Los Angeles, California
Education—B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1985; M.F.A.,
   University of Iowa, 1987
Awards—Guggenheim Fellowship, 1995; PEN/Faulkner
   Award, 2002; Orange Prize, 2002
Currently—Nashville, Tennessee


Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles but raised in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, she studied with such notable authors as Russell Banks and Grace Paley before getting her first short works published. She labored long and hard in the trenches of Seventeen magazine (where her talents went largely unrecognized), before striking gold with her ambitious first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, which was named a New York Times Notable Book of 1992 and subsequently made into a major motion picture.

Since her auspicious debut, Patchett has crafted a handful of elegant novels, garnering several accolades and awards along the way. But her real breakthrough occurred with 2001's Bel Canto, a taut, psychological thriller set in the claustrophobic confines of an embassy under siege in South America. Winning both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize, Bel Canto catapulted Patchett into the ranks of bestselling authors.

As if to prove her versatility, Patchett departed from fiction for 2004's Truth & Beauty, the heartbreaking account of her longstanding, difficult friendship with the late Lucy Grealy, a gifted writer whose disfigurement from cancer precipitated a tragic descent into addiction and death. This memoir won several literary awards and appeared on many end-of-year best books lists. Her novel, Run, follwed in 2007.

Success breeds success; and with each book, Patchett's reputation grows. Perhaps the secret to her popularity has been captured best by Patchett's friend, Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler. "She is a genius of the human condition," he says. "I can't think of many other writers, ever, who get anywhere near her ability to comprehend the vastness and diversity of humanity, and to articulate our deepest heart."

Extras
From a 2004 Barnes and Noble interview:

• In 1997, The Patron Saint of Liars was adapted into a TV movie, and Patchett also helped to write the screenplay for Taft, which was optioned by actor Morgan Freeman for a feature film.

• Patchett knew absolutely nothing about opera before writing Bel Canto; she began her research with Fred Plotkin's book Opera 101.

• She has never had a television.... She brushes her dog's teeth every morning.... After she received a pig for her ninth birthday, she hasn't eaten red meat since.

• When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, here is her response:

Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow. "I think I read it in the tenth grade. My mother was reading it. It was the first truly adult literary novel I had read outside of school, and I read it probably half a dozen times. I found Bellow's directness very moving. The book seemed so intelligent and unpretentious. I wanted to write like that book."

(Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews 
Run, with a title that suggests many things (including Kenya's athletic prowess and Doyle's political drive), and with a watery looking cover that reflects the whole book's aura of a human aquarium, becomes an elegant melange of family ties. Ms. Patchett gives her readers much to contemplate when genetics, privilege, opportunity and nurture come into play. And to her credit she is neither vague nor reductive about any of these things; she creates a genuinely rich landscape of human possibility…Run…shimmers with its author's rarefied eloquence, and with the deep resonance of her insights.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


This fifth novel by the author of the much-admired Bel Canto is engaging, surprising, provocative and moving. Its force is diminished somewhat by a couple of extended passages in which Ann Patchett resorts to conversation rather than action to fill in some of her plot's holes, but these are minor annoyances in what is otherwise a thoroughly intelligent book, an intimate domestic drama that nonetheless deals with big issues touching us all: religion, race, class, politics and, above all else, family.
Jonathan Yardley - Washington Post


Novelists can no longer take it as an insult when people say their novels are like good television, because the finest American television is better written than most novels. Ann Patchett's new one has the texture, the pace and the fairy tale elegance of a half dozen novels she might have read and loved growing up, but the magic and the finesse of Run is really much closer to that of Six Feet Under or ER or The Sopranos, and that is good news for everybody, not least her readers. Bernadette and Bernard Doyle were a Boston couple who wanted to have a big lively family. They had one boy, Sullivan, and then adopted two black kids, Teddy and Tip. Mr. Doyle is a former mayor of Boston and he continues his interest in politics, hoping his boys will shape up one day for elected office, though none of them seems especially keen. Bernadette dies when the adopted kids are just four, and much of the book offers a placid requiem to her memory in particular and to the force of motherhood in lives generally. An old statue from Bernadette's side of the family seems to convey miracles, and there will be more than one before this gracious book is done. One night, during a heavy snowfall, Teddy and Tip accompany their father to a lecture given by Jessie Jackson at the Kennedy Centre. Tip is preoccupied with studying fish, so he feels more than a little coerced by his father. After the lecture they get into an argument and Tip walks backwards in the road. A car appears out of nowhere and so does a woman called Tennessee, who pushes Tip out of the car's path and is herself struck. Thus, a woman is taken to hospital and her daughter, Kenya, is left in the company of the Doyles. Relationships begin both to emerge and unravel, disclosing secrets, hopes, fears. Run is a novel with timeless concerns at its heart—class and belonging, parenthood and love—and if it wears that heart on its sleeve, then it does so with confidence. And so it should: the book is lovely to read and is satisfyingly bold in its attempt to say something patient and true about family. Patchett knows how to wear big human concerns very lightly, and that is a continuing bonus for those who found a great deal to admire in her previous work, especially the ultra-lauded Bel Canto. Yet one should not mistake that lightness for anything cosmetic: Run is a book that sets out inventively to contend with the temper of our times, and by the end we feel we really know the Doyle family in all its intensity and with all its surprises.
Andrew O'Hagan - Publishers Weekly


Two families come together in a traffic accident during a snowstorm. Nothing terribly unusual there, except that a woman has purposely thrown herself under a car to protect a stranger. It quickly becomes clear that the families-a poor, single black mother with her 11-year-old daughter and a white, Irish Catholic, former Boston mayor with a biological son and two adopted black college-aged sons whose much-loved wife died over 20 years ago-have a connection. The award-winning Patchett (Bel Canto) here presents an engrossing and enjoyable novel. While there are a few unexpected turns, the reader very quickly figures out where the plot is headed, but that does not detract from the pleasure of reading. The somewhat unusual premise is presented very matter-of-factly; this is not a story about race but about family and the depths of parents' love of their children, whether biological, adopted, given away, or otherwise acquired, and of each other.
Sarah Conrad Weisman - Library Journal


A family-of-man fable that reads a little too pat to ring true. Like the popular previous novel by Patchett (Bel Canto, 2001), this one finds an unexpected incident connecting and affecting a seemingly disparate cast of characters, isolating them within their own microcosm. The setting is Boston-very Catholic, very political, very racially divided-on the snowiest evening in more than two decades, when a large group gathers to hear a speech by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Among them is widower Bernard Doyle, once the city's mayor until a scandal involving his oldest son compromised his career (one of the underdeveloped subplots here). Still a political junkie, Doyle wants his two adopted, college-age African-American sons to express more interest in his passion. Though he'd had high political aspirations for these two-even going so far as to name them Tip and Teddy-both are pursuing different paths. Tip wants to be a scientist studying fish; Teddy hears the call of the priesthood, likely inspired by his adoptive mother's uncle, the elderly Father Sullivan. The priest has reluctantly gained notoriety as a faith healer (another underdeveloped subplot), though he doesn't believe he has extraordinary powers, and his own faith has become shaky. Leaving the Jackson speech, Tip steps amid the swirling snow into the path of an SUV. A woman with her young daughter pushes him out of the way, letting the SUV hit her. Is the woman Tip's real mother? (And Teddy's?) Is the young daughter their sister? Why do she and her mother seem to know so much more about the Doyles than they know about her? What do we make of the statue of the Virgin Mary that looks so much like the only mother Tip and Teddy have known? And what about that significant plot twist revealed in conversation between a dead woman and one who may be dying? By the time the extended family converges on the hospital, it has become plain that neither these people nor this family can ever be the same. Compelling story but thematically heavy-handed.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. How would you characterize Teddy and Tip's relationship as siblings? How does it compare to their relationship with their brother, Sullivan?

2. At the Jesse Jackson lecture, Doyle reviews the personalities of his three sons and thinks about which of them would be most able to lead. Which of the boys do you think would make the best politician? Do you think Doyle's assessments of their characters are accurate or biased?

3. Discuss the concept of nature versus nurture. Do you think that Sullivan, Tip, and Teddy are who they are, or would they have turned out differently had Bernadette lived? How would those differences manifest themselves?

4. Discuss the different meanings of the title. How many different ways does the word Run work for you?

5. Run includes several incidences of doubling—two brothers who get adopted, two mothers who die, two men named Sullivan, two Tennessee Alice Mosers, two accidents involving hospital stays. What is the effect for you as a reader of seeing similar characters and events repeated over the course of the book? Can you think of any other examples of doubling in literature?

6. Why is Kenya the one subject that Sullivan and his father can agree on? How does her adoption into the family help Teddy and Tip understand Sullivan and what he went through growing up?

7. Towards the end of the story we see images of four mothers (including the Virgin Mary) on Kenya's dresser. What is the author saying about women and mothers to have them all there together?

8. Why does Kenya's mother conceal her true identity from her daughter? Do you think that she imagines the conversation in the hospital with Tennessee Alice Moser after surgery or do you think it really happened?

9. What does Father Sullivan's encounter with Tennessee in the hospital suggest about his ability to heal?

10. Doyle is very invested in politics on both local and national levels, but he falters at the idea of taking home a stray child. What does this book say to you about social responsibility?

11. Of the many characters in Run, which did you feel most connected to on an emotional level? How do you explain that connection?

12. How did you react to Bernard Doyle's decision to bestow the heirloom statue on Kenya, a daughter who has literally shared nothing with his former wife, Bernadette? Do you think he made the same decision his wife would have made?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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