I've decided I need to return to writing about things literary, no matter how obscure on this blog. Don't worry, you'll still get the inane details about family events gone awry, absurd outbursts and tirades on popular news items, and random musings on weird facts, but I feel a duty to return to the lit world for at least awhile.
Last night I finished the ARC (advanced review copy) of Anne Patchett's new novel, Run, scheduled for publication in October. The bummer about reading ARCs is that you can't tell all your friends to run right out and read the book too, and so you're stuck reading reviews online for that satisfying conversation that should follow a good read.
What I loved about her novel Bel Canto is true, in a certain way, of this novel too. You start out sort of on the fence. Will I like these characters? Will I care where this story is going? And I wasn't really sure. Her characters are always just complex enough that you can doubt them for a little while, even judge them.
But then, just when you think you might be able to take them or leave them, you find yourself gripped.
The novel is about Bernard & Bernadette Doyle, of Boston. Bernard was the Mayor of Boston many years back and is a born politician. After their only natural son, Sullivan, was born Bernadette suffered a handful of miscarriages, so they decided to adopt a baby boy, which ended up being two boys--brothers. One a newborn, the other 14 months old, Teddy and Tip. And they're black. The Doyles are Irish-Catholic white.
Then the story leaps forward nearly 19 years. Bernadette is long dead of cancer when the boys were little. Sullivan is the screw-up brother working with the AIDS-stricken populations in Africa and is in some way responsible for the fall of Bernard's political career (revealed toward the end of the book). Bernard--called "Doyle" persists in putting tremendous pressure on both sons to become politicians, dragging them to political events and encouraging them to memorize political speeches. Tip's interest--and a serious one at that--is icthyology, while Teddy is considering becoming a priest. Their father's inability to see his sons' desires is his greatest weakness.
The novel really begins when, one evening after the family leaves a Jesse Jackson speech on a very snowy night, A woman darts out of the night and pushes Tip out of the way of an oncoming car that nobody saw coming, and is critically injured herself. The woman's name is Tennessee Moser, and as it turns out, she's no stranger to these boys. Nor is her 11 year old daughter, Kenya. The rest of the novel centers on these relationships as Tennessee goes into the hospital for immediate surgery and little Kenya comes to stay with them.
I won't say much more except that it was a really nice change of pace to read a novel that gets away with being poignant and touching and focusing on bonds of family without getting too sentimental. And even the issue of black vs. white, I thought, was handled very well--neither overly delicate, nor too heavy handed. I will be curious to see how people react to this book's race themes seeing as Patchett is white and this is often cause for someone to get all up in arms (You're not black! How can you write about black people?) The irony is that Tip and Teddy have been raised by a white, well-to-do family in a comfortable part of town and received good educations and were saved from bullying as kids by their older brother Sullivan, while young Kenya has grown up in a housing project and is a latchkey kid and has only her mother to look out for her.
The conclusion of this story is exquisite, but I won't say why or how. When it comes out, do yourself a favor, and read it.