Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews



Run by Ann Patchett








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Ann Patchett’s fifth novel, Run, explores from a variety of dimensions what it means to be family. With deft skill, Patchett presents the Doyle family: family Bernard, his late wife, Bernadette, their son, Sullivan, and their adopted sons Tip and Teddy. An uncle is a priest. Set in Boston, the action accelerates with a car accident, when Tip and Teddy’s mother, whom they did not know, pushed Tip out of the path of a car, and gets injured herself. Tip and Teddy learn that she is their birth mother, and they meet their teenage sister Kenya. From one chapter to another, Patchett introduces the issues that draw families together and drive them apart. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 2, pp. 17-19:

In the basement of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Tip stood alone with the fishes. Threats of bad weather that had not yet materialized sent everyone else home early, and while he was quietly fond of the people he worked with there was always something thrilling about having the place to himself. He walked through the catacombs of dead fishes, filing back the jars that had been taken out for study that day. Over the dull thrum of fluorescent lights overhead, Tip kept listening for the sound of his brother coming down the hallway. All he heard were his own feet on the cement floor, the squeal of tennis shoes and the musical clink of the glass jars touching in his basket. Teddy was late, a fact so basic and essential to his nature that Tip could hardly believe he had ever expected it could be otherwise. His brother was late. The sun would come up in the East. One would think he could remember that.

"Just meet me and Da at the lecture," he had said on the phone that morning, thinking then at least one of them would be on time.

"But I'll be at the museum by five and the lecture doesn't start until seven." Teddy had sounded perfectly logical. "I'll just sit at your desk and study while you work."

A two hour margin of error, even Teddy could manage that. But now it was six forty-five. If Tip left this very minute he'd barely be on time himself, and he couldn't do that anyway because then Teddy would have walked all the way to the museum just to find a note taped to the door saying he'd left. Teddy had lost his last four cell phones and had not pursued a fifth, so there was no way to head him off. It wasn't that Tip minded being late exactly. He didn't have the slightest interest in hearing what Jesse Jackson had to say. It was only the knowledge that their father would already be in the audi­torium by now looking at his watch that made Tip feel uncomfort­able about the time. How much better the night would have been if the sky had thrown down the bank of snow that was predicted and locked him in with the fishes.

He took a jar containing eight small warmouths from his basket and put them back on the shelf where they belonged. There were six rooms in the Department of Ichthyology, which was located be­neath the museum, six brick-walled cells in the subterranean hive, each one a maze of metal shelving, fishes stacked floor to ceiling like bins of nails in a hardware store, 1.3 million dead fishes suspended in alcohol. A dozen or more tiny fish clustered together in small jars, single fish folded over in larger jars, huge fish alone in metal boxes. There were fish that had been recently discovered in the Amazon and a fish dating back as far as the 1700s. Put a jar in the wrong spot and you can pretty much say goodbye to it altogether. Tip fol­lowed the numbers with a librarian's precision, setting his basket on the floor so that he could handle the jar more carefully when he re­turned it to its proper location. Tip Doyle had a position of impor­tance in the lab, even if his father didn't see it that way. Historically, the recataloguing of fishes was work for graduate students. That this job had come to Tip, a senior, was a sign of his seriousness and dem­onstrated his sense of responsibility.

"Does the country need another ichthyologist?" his father would have said had he been following Tip through his rounds. Tip was looking for the empty spot to which the next jar, eleven small bluegills, should be returned. "Would the country lay down its foreign wars, its need for health care and education, in order to turn its col­lective gaze to the splendors of the cod?" Tip stopped for a mo­ment, using the buzz of the lights to work the voice out of his head. His father liked to say he paid more than forty thousand dollars a year to one of the finest universities in the world to give his son the right to peer into glass jars at dead fish. While Jesse Jackson's son went to Congress, his own son had wandered into the stacks of the Mayr Library, never to be heard from again.

Every jar Tip replaced introduced him to a group of specimens he had never seen before. Whenever he put a fish back he stopped to pick up three or four of its neighbors and contemplate their con­nections, and inevitably those connections led him to other fish, which might lead him to someday making a real scientific discovery of his own. The warmouth, for example, was in a bin next to some nearly translucent banded pygmy sunfish. Normally, had there been more time, that would have been enough to make him put the bluegill down on the floor and lift up all the sunfish. Once he got going, Tip could often manage to shoot through half a night, finally turning the lights out behind him and locking up with his own key.

Patchett’s skilled writing saves Run from becoming a soap opera. Instead, we get complete characters in whom we develop deep interest. By the last page, we’ve come to know them well, and wish that they were members of our family, which in many ways, they are.


Steve Hopkins, October 25, 2007



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the November 2007 issue of Executive Times


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