May 11, 2012 Comments Off on Review: Run
This is a perfect little gem of a book. Of course I was already an Ann Patchett fan after Bel Canto, although I was braced for a similarly wishy-washy ending, but the writing in this book is so much better; one of the quotes on the back says that Patchett is apparently hitting her stride, and I think I agree.
It’s a very intimate story…it’s about your family. The characters all have their own stories but you don’t get to hear all of all of them. The action spans less than twenty-four hours, excepting the first and last chapters, but it’s the day when the ground under your feet shifts. It’s barely even a plot—it’s just a stew of characters that bump against each other and make their own plot—it’s like Patchett didn’t do anything! But of course, the minute you think that about a book, you acknowledge that the author in question has truly done a great thing.
I find myself unable to write anything about the book because it’s like when someone asks you, “So how was Christmas break with the in-laws?” It’s so hard to summarize the fine, subliminal interactions between so many different personalities that you either have to say “Good” and change the subject or ramble about it for half an hour. And I choose not to ramble. I feel like I know these characters too well.
My only criticism is that the first chapter reads like something a subpar student cooked up for his creative writing final. The book begins: “Bernadette had been dead two weeks when her sisters showed up in Doyle’s living room asking for the statue back. They had no legal claim to it, of course, she never would have thought of leaving it to them, but the statue had been in their family for four generations, passing down a maternal line from mother to daughter, and it was their intention to hold with tradition.” Is that terrible or what? It’s awful because it’s so textbook. It’s sad to read from an author with such a sure feel for pacing and thought processes and description. But after about ten pages the stiffness and predictability goes away, and it’s infinitely preferable to have the awkward part at the very beginning, where you can forget about it, than at the very end like the misbegotten finale of Bel Canto. Wonderful book, very quick read…which means there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t go pick it up right now. Take the time to read the extra-long excerpt; I told you she was a master of pacing.
She kept it light at first, swinging past the gently jogging girls who were locked in their own breathless conversation, And so I told him…, past the curve where the high-step lunging boy kept his legs so even and straight he resembled a mechanical doll. If there had been endless time she might have gone over and joined him but the need to run was so strong now she had to fight to hold herself back, keep herself from tearing out chunks of the soft red track with her heels. She needed to take it slow at first, to stretch down through her toes, to pump her elbows out behind her. The cold had settled in her bones, she felt it now. The cold from the high bedroom where she had slept the night before and the cold that had built up in her skin even before that, crouching down in the snow beside her mother, holding her mother’s cold hand. She had absorbed her mother’s cold into her and it had worked a frost along the inside of her veins. It had been cold at the hospital in the little room where they hooked her mother up to the monitors while she slept. There hadn’t been time to think about it then, how cold she was, how her hands ached, how her head was splitting from the ice that had built up in her ears. It was cold in the hospital waiting room with Teddy talking about the snow and cold at the piano though she had loved to play. It was cold in the kitchen and cold when she went back to her own apartment. It was every bit as cold there as it was outside. It was unbearably cold without her mother to wrap her in a blanket and fix her a cup of chocolate and talk about how the sun poured over everything in Kenya, the place for which she was the namesake, where they agreed they would go together someday. In Kenya it was hot enough to make you forget that winter even existed.
And this morning? She had been freezing every minute of it. Her coat wasn’t half as warm as Tip’s and even though she’d brought a sweater from home she hadn’t been able to wear it under her coat because then the coat was too tight to get her arms through the sleeves. Tip was on crutches, she didn’t blame him, but he moved as slowly as the hands on a clock and she was having to practically nail her feet to the sidewalk to keep from running over him every step. She was picking up her pace now on the track, but not to where she would take it. She could have run this fast in the snow. She let herself float forward, every step a leap, her legs stretching out like scissors opened wide. She was a swimmer, a gymnastics star, she was a superhuman force that sat outside the fundamental law of nature. Gravity did not apply to her. “Meditation in motion,” her coach would say. She heard his voice in her head as she lapped the talking girls, as she swept past the one who was there to run. From the corner of her vision she could see the step-lunge boy stand up straight and watch her pass. She dried off his forehead with the breeze she made. She wasn’t even trying. She wasn’t racing anything but the sight of her mother being hit by the car. That, and she raced the Doyles at their breakfast table saying she lived too close, and the girl at the front desk intimating that Kenya was not a person to be on this track any more than she should have a house on Dartmouth Street. She was racing Thoreau and his jar of fish because he continued to hound her. How was she supposed to know him? It was her plan to outrun all of that, and somewhere in that running she had started to fly. She no longer felt like touching all the dirt and the muck she had so patiently submitted herself to so that people would think she was a very nice girl. She was not such a very nice girl. Nobody who was very, very nice would ever work this hard to take something they wanted only for themselves. Nice girls did not demand that everyone stop what they were doing and look at them but that was exactly what she asked for and what she got. All the other runners on the track had stopped now, the way dancers will stop when the soloist steps forward to dominate the floor. The girl from the front desk was there, too. Kenya caught sight of her extraordinary hair as she blew past. Tip was there, his leg off the bench now and straight out in front as if he thought at any moment he might have to throw a rope around her and pull her back. Anger and sadness and a sense of injustice that was bigger than any one thing that had happened stoked an enormous fire in her chest and that fire kept her heart vibrant and hot and alive, a beautiful, infallible machine. They were no longer waiting to see how fast she could go, they knew how fast she could go. Now they wanted to see how long it would be before she crashed, and if that was what they were waiting for they might as well sit down and get comfortable.