Pop Picks

Run, a recommended novel

Posted on December 26, 2008

As I started to recover from my recent bout with pneumonia I rediscovered what I thought I knew: that daytime television is a cultural wasteland.  It made me run to the pile of unread books on the coffee table and between naps I had the delightful experience of reading Ann Patchett’s 2007 novel Run.  You may know Patchett from her earlier and much lauded Bel Canto, a novel with which I couldn’t really connect.

Run was the opposite for me.  Set in Boston and Cambridge, the setting was as familiar as an old shoe.  One of the main characters, Tip, is a Harvard student and works in the basement store rooms of the university’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.  That museum is connected to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, one of my favorite places in the city.  I first went there as a kid and spent hours in galleries that seem little changed since the 1800s.  Glass cases full of preserved birds, insects, fish, mammals, and so on.  It’s like stepping back in time — a little eerie, a lot out of date, and yet it feels like pure science on display.

Anyway, back to the novel.  Run delves into big themes — class, clan, politics, faith and science, motherhood, family — but never seems bogged down by the weight of them.  The pace of the novel is brisk, but ultimately it is a character driven novel and I came to really care about all of them.  That’s when I know a novel has its emotional act together.  I loved Russell Bank’s Cloudsplitter, for example, but never really cared about the characters (maybe epic novels find their connections in other ways).  In contrast, it’s hard not to fall in love with young Kenya.  It is also a book that doesn’t shy away from life’s toughness and unfairness, yet it retains a warmth and affirmative quality that I welcome and that feels too often absent in many contemporary novels.

I’d highly recommend it.

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