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Book Review   |    
Jaak Rakfeldt
Psychiatric Services 2008; doi:
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by Ann Patchett; New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2007, 295 pages, $25.95

Dr. Rakfeldt is professor in the Social Work Department, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven.

An accident, on a snowy night in Boston, mysteriously draws together fragments of a family that are detailed over the course of 24 hours.

"There were three separate hits. They were so close together that someone who was not directly involved might not have been able to see them distinctly, but for Kenya time slowed down and gave her the chance to think of each one as its own act of a play. In the first, her mother left her on the sidewalk and ran to the older boy, Tip. She blindsided him with the full force of her body, the momentum of the blow knocking him very nearly clear of the car. The second one was the car hitting her mother, and this hit was made up of many smaller hits: her hip against the high front fender—BANG—her chest against the hood—BANG—and then she rolled up until her head struck the windshield with a single crack, just in the moment when the car slid to a stop. … Her mother's head leaves the windshield, her body rolls backwards across the hood, and then she falls to the ground with a wet, heavy thump and lies there, facedown in the snow in front of the tires of a light-colored SUV."

The accident occurred while Tip had been walking with his father after having been dragged to a political speech by Jesse Jackson at the Kennedy Center. Tip might well have been killed had it not been for this woman, a stranger, who had leaped out of the darkness and had shoved him away to safety. She is African American. She is taken to the hospital, leaving her 11-year-old daughter, Kenya, alone.

Ex-mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle, has nurtured his three sons—the prodigal son Sullivan, 33, and adopted African Americans, Tip, 21, and Teddy, 20—since the death over 15 years earlier of his wife, Bernadette. Then, on that snowy evening, Tip, distracted and angry at Doyle, steps out in front of a car only to be pushed out of the way by this African-American woman, who turns out to be the adopted boys' birth mother. Moreover, she had been surreptitiously watching the boys for years, along with her own daughter, Kenya. They live very near Doyle's stately home in a public housing project.

Doyle allows Kenya to stay with them and she is reunited with her two biological brothers. The story revolves around the intricate dynamics that ensue. Run is about family and the infinitely complex ways in which family members weave into and intersect with each other. Patchett describes interesting and compelling people: Doyle, who is sentimental, tough, willful, and generous; Tip, who is purposeful and inflexible; Teddy, who is warm and kind; and Kenya, a talented runner, blessed with "strength, grace, concentration"; and Sullivan, impudent and eccentric, the prodigal son who comes home and, despite his father's qualms and misgivings, provides his own kind of strength and vigor during this time of familial upheaval and uncertainty.

Dealing as it does with convoluted and intense family relationships, as well as with class, race, privilege, and poverty within contemporary American society, Run would be of interest to the readers of Psychiatric Services.




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