Saturday, July 19, 2008

An Author's View

Ann Patchett’s fifth novel, “Run” was the topic for our monthly book club discussion. One of our members had downloaded an interview with Ann Patchett and Michael Silverblatt, from the “Bookworm” internet site. Listening to Ann Patchett talk about her new novel “Run” was a wonderful addition to our book club discussion. Ms. Patchett is extremely articulate and passionate about her writing. “Run” is a story about the Doyle family, Bernard Doyle, an Irish Catholic politician, and his wife had only one child so they adopted two black children, Tip and Teddy. The birth mother of these boys, Tennessee, appears one night with the child she is raising as her own, Kenya. Ann Patchett asserts that the reality of her story does exist, and that people in general are nice (at least the people she knows) and this is how she sees the world. Her characters were loosely based on people she knew. For example, she based Tip on an ichthyology major she knew at Harvard because she was intrigued by someone who was that smart. She also loosely based the father, Bernard Doyle, on the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, Joseph P. Kennedy. The sons Tip and Teddy were named for the famous Boston politicians, Tip O’Neil and Teddy Kennedy.

One critic suggested that the title “Run” suggests many things, Kenya’s passionate desire to run and Bernard Doyle’s passionate desire to run for political office. Our group discussed the question of the events of the story being contrived. One critic called the book “over plotted”. Ms. Patchett answered that question by stating that the world we see is only a small part of the overall scheme. And, what other people see as being contrived she sees as something that is possible. She wants to tell a story. If a critic says the story is contrived, she answers that that is how she wants to write the story. It is logical in the world of this story and she is the “puppeteer” of the story.

The main theme of the story and the question that Ann Patchett (and Bernard Doyle) ask, is: “If you are smart and privileged, do you have a larger responsibility than what you personally desire?” “Do you owe some sort of debt because you have been given so much?” This is the question that Tip and Teddy struggle with in “Run”. Tip wants to be an ichthyologist but his father wants him to be a doctor. Teddy wants to be a priest but his father wants him to be a politician. The events that unfold in the 24 hour time span of the story greatly affect those decisions. Another question that the author asks, is: “What is family?” “Is it the family you are born into or the one you create?” The characters in this story do not know what their true relationships are, but nevertheless they form a family that loves and supports one another.

The end of the book is an epilogue which more or less ties up the loose ends of the story. Again, this is a technique that Ms. Patchett uses…… “If you set something in motion you must be true to it.”

Listening to this interview gave us, as readers, insight into what the author was trying to say, the techniques she uses to tell the story and propel it forward, and what she ultimately wants the reader to gain from reading this story.

You can listen to Ann Patchett’s interview with Michael Silverblatt at

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