Run by Ann Patchett

I have just started reading this book and would like your thoughts . . . I really enjoyed Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and only recently learned that Run is about two transracial adoptees and their family.

From the author’s web site:

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.

Your thoughts?

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

3 thoughts

  1. I got this for Christmas, and now I want to reread it, because I can’t really remember my adoption criticisms (note, I’m not adopted nor am I an AP). I will say there’s more adoption in the book than the blurb suggests. But I remember thinking Patchett didn’t seem to research anything about adoption before writing it. And frankly, the surprise twist (I won’t say more here) seems a little implausible to me.
    Eager to hear your thoughts. I’m off to reread.
    Adoption seems to be a theme in Patchett’s writing, doesn’t it? The Patron Saint of Liars was also about adoption, indirectly, in the form of teenage pregnancy.

  2. I’m having more trouble figuring out what to say about this book than about _Happy Family_. Maybe it’s because Jae Ran hasn’t yet posted a list of thought-provoking observations and questions 🙂 I’m hoping to attend a talk by Ann Patchett at a local bookstore on July 29, so I can report back on how that went. In any case, I found the book an easy and compelling read.
    I haven’t read _The Patron Saint of Liars_, but I have read _The Magician’s Assistant_ and _Bel Canto_. Unfortunately, I am like an amnesiac when it comes to remembering plots, but I do recall both books had a tinge of surrealism mixed with a realistic story. This sort of thing always throws me for a loop. The fantastic (I mean, fantasy-like) aspect in this book of course was Tennessee Alice Moser appearing to Tennessee on her deathbed. Interestingly, the truth behind the fantastic family legend about the statue turned out not to be so fantastic.
    It’s interesting to compare the two adoption situations (Kenya versus Tip and Teddy). On the one hand, we have a white couple who adopts two black babies through an adoption agency. This adoptive family is a high-profile, wealthy family in which the mother dies from cancer. Since it’s a trans-racial adoption, the two boys obviously always know that they have been adopted, and the boys feel some ambivalence toward their adoptive father. On the other hand, we have a single, low-income black woman who informally adopts a baby girl when her friend, that girl’s mother, dies. This girl apparently never knows she is adopted, but she is absolutely devoted to her adoptive mother. I feel like the author is trying to say something with this comparison, but I am not sure what it is. In both situations, the adoptive parents seem to want to erase something of the past. In Kenya’s case, her mother hides her adoption, and in the boys’ case, the parents never wanted to think about their birth mother (to the point that the boys’ mother claims not to remember Tip’s original name). The comparison of the two adoptive situations is interesting in this book, since I think secrecy typically turns out to be a bad thing in real life, but it doesn’t seem to in this book.
    It seemed to me that both of these adoptive situations were fairly realistic, except that my understanding is that informal (non-legalized) kin adoptions are fairly common, especially among some African American families. Therefore, I don’t think it would have been necessary for Kenya’s adoptive mother to assume her birth mother’s identity in order to raise her as her daughter. It does seem realistic to me that a birth parent would be interested in keeping tabs on her children, although the degree to which Tennessee did so was pretty extreme.
    Another theme going on was Doyle’s attitude toward his sons. He had high aspirations for them to become politicians, but felt he had “failed…[in] his drive to shape them (p. 31),” despite the fact that one was studying science at Harvard and the other was a nice guy devoted to his Catholic faith who regularly visited his elderly uncle in the nursing home. I would say this is ridiculous, except that I myself have a friend whose father was disappointed with her for not going into law, even though she graduated from Harvard, subsequently earned a master’s degree, and went to work for the United Nations. Maybe the author is commenting here on wealthy white parents?
    Another thing I noticed throughout the book was the description of people’s race. For example, “A nervous white girl stepped up to the microphone…(p. 34);” “Of the two men who worked on her mother, one was white and one was black (p. 46);” an old woman in he hospital was “white, dead white (p. 58);” a doctor “…was what some people would call a dark-skinned man, but he wasn’t black (p. 59);” and so on. I felt like this primary description of incidental characters according to their race would not happen in another book.
    On the other hand, I felt there were some descriptions of what I thought might be “stuff white people like” (so to speak) such as the playing of Schubert at the Doyles’ home. And Tip seemed to feel very comfortable at Harvard, which I think of as primarily a privileged white environment. And Teddy quoted all sorts of speeches, everything from Jesse Jackson to Ronald Reagan!
    Finally, there is the theme of running. Kenya was a runner. The boys also ran in high school, but not with as much talent or devotion as Kenya did. Doyle hoped his sons would run for political positions. And was Sullivan running away by going to Africa? Kenya felt that if she couldn’t run, “…she didn’t know who she would be at all (p. 53).” Knowing who one is certainly seems to be a theme in this book.
    So, I feel like I was able to identify some themes in this book, but I’m not sure how to interpret their significance.
    I found the ending of the book interesting… a lot happens in the last 10 or so pages. In just a few pages, Tip has gotten his medical degree (which pleases his father) but has already changed his mind to go back to ichthyology. Kenya is living with the Doyles and everything seems to be hunky dory… which doesn’t seem quite right to me.
    Can someone else please comment on this book and clue me in?

  3. I attended the talk by Ann Patchett, and I’m actually less satisfied now with the book. I asked if she could comment on the adoption aspect of the book, and also whether she had a personal connection to adoption or how she had researched adoption in order to write about it. She replied that she didn’t have a personal connection and didn’t do any research on adoption. She said, as best I can remember, that the point of the adoption piece was that genetics wasn’t the key to rising to greatness, that greatness was possible under the right circumstances. She said that this was her response to the “nature/nurture” debate; I think she feels “nature” is typically credited with too much.
    Well, this answer disturbed me. Does this mean Tip and Teddy wouldn’t have thrived with their bith mother (who was a hard-working woman devoted to her children who valued education, kept a clean house, and was willing to die to save someone else’s life)? Or was Kenya included in the book to show that a child could thrive under those circumstances, and living with educated, wealthy, white people isn’t necessary for “greatness” (but again, that was nurture, not nature, since Kenya wasn’t biologically related to Tennessee? Further, though Kenya was smart, her success was athletics–a more stereotypical strength of black children–whereas Tip and Teddy’s successes were more academic)?
    The person who introduced Patchett referred to a review by Jonathan Yardley (, in which he writes: “To the novel’s many strengths, one last must be noted. Endings in novels aren’t easy and sometimes really don’t matter, since in the reader’s mind the characters keep right on living, but Patchett has given this one an ending that is just about perfect.”
    Perfect? A loving and responsible mother dies (actually, *3* mothers die in this book–the two Tennessee’s and Tip and Teddy’s adoptive mother), and a girl never knows the truth about her biological family? Three black children have all had multiple losses, but they’re doing just great with their rich white dad?
    I wanted to ask Patchett a follow-up question about whether she was ever uncomfortable writing about complex and potentially political topics such as adoption without researching them. What if she got it wrong? But she had already answered that question, when she said earlier in the evening that, not only does she use her imagination, she does it authoritatively. And then later, she said a key to writing is to forgive yourself (e.g., if you planned to spend a day writing and didn’t do it). So that’s the answer I inferred to my unasked question… She has confidence in her writing, and if she gets it wrong, so what? She forgives herself.

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