Run, by Ann Patchett

When I first read Run, I dismissed it as being mediocre, especially by Ann Patchett’s standards. But then I kept thinking about it. About the scenes Patchett builds and the characters she creates. When our book club decided to read it, we found much to love about it, much to question, and much to learn. Patchett’s standards are, after all, pretty high.

This is a book about how families work and how they don’t, about whether we love biological children more or less than adopted. It’s about family deception: It starts with a story about a statue of the Virgin Mary that was carved to look like Bernadette’s Irish grandmother. It is a flat-out lie—the statue was stolen by her grandfather during a drunken night out—but the family chooses to believe the lie even though they fully know the the truth. The lie, of course, is much lovelier. The mysterious mother figure, Tennessee, is not entirely who she says she is. Father Sullivan is not a saint, and his nephew Sullivan’s recent past is a little more murky than he suggests. Doyle tries to manipulate them all and Tip and Teddy do their best to become who they want to be, more or less, although their father’s shadow is large and controlling.

Patchett has been criticized for implicit racism in the book—the white family is the ideal, the Black is flawed, and all Black people can run fast. But Kenya is a delightfully authentic little girl and she would clearly choose to be with her mother, in her dark little apartment, surrounded by the love she has always known rather than in the bright and airy Doyle home. Ultimately, she has no choice, and she becomes the family heiress, who inherits the magic statue. The fact that she looks nothing like that version of the Blessed Virgin doesn’t even enter into Bernard’s decision. So I see a lot of color blindness here, but I can see how that in itself presents a rosy happy-ever-after ending that shrugs off the harsh realities of living with a skin tone a tad too dark to be Irish. — Pat Prijatel

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