I picked up 'Run' by Ann Patchett on one of my charity shop trawls. She is an author that I really love: here are reviews of Bel Canto from 2010, 'State of Wonder' from 2012 and 'Truth and Beauty' from 2013.
This book was very different in scope and theme from the others, always a sign of a good writer. This story covers 24 hours in the life of a family, introducing us to Tip and Teddy and their father Doyle. Actually, rewind, it introduces us first of all to the statue of the Virgin Mary, a family heirloom that bears a striking resemblance to their mother Bernadette and the stories (both the true and the false one) of how it arrived in their family. Left in the lurch by the death of their mother Doyle has become somewhat of an overbearing parent and has dragged them, on this evening, to hear Jessie Jackson give a speech (outings that have apparently been a consistent feature thought their childhood, and Tip has taken to memorising political speeches.) As they leave the event and stand in the falling snow, discussing a party that Doyle is trying to persuade them to attend, a woman comes, apparently out of nowhere, and saves Tip from being struck by a car. In the ensuing chaos they find themselves taking care of the woman's daughter after she is left in the snow by the departing ambulance. The surprise return of their estranged older brother Sullivan adds an extra twist to the slightly surreal unfolding drama.
The books touches variously on issues around the family and the nature of belonging, and the obligations that come with belonging. Catholicism is there in the shape of Father Sullivan, their mother's uncle, and Teddy's apparent determination to become a priest, but it is an influence on the family that has waned significantly. Much of the story focusses quite closely on Kenya, the young daughter of the injured woman, and her fascination with Tip and Teddy. I don't want to spoil the plot disclosure, so suffice to say that many things are not as simple as their first appear.
Here Kenya wakes up having passed the night in the boy's old room at the top of the house:
"When Kenya opened her eyes it was to a flood of astonishing sunlight. So bright was this room, so radiant, that for the first few moments she was awake she did not consider her mother or the Doyles at all. She did not think of where she was or what had happened. She could do nothing but take in the light. It had never occurred to her before that all the places she had slept in her life had been dark, that her own apartment had never seen a minute of this kind of sun. Even in the middle of the day, every corner hung tight to its shadows and spread a dimness over the ceiling and walls. Draw the curtains back as far as they could possibly go and still the light seemed to skim just in from of the window without ever falling inside. No matter what time of day it was she had to switch on the overhead bulb to do her homework, or her mother would shout at her, Your eyes! But in the light that soaked this room a girl could read the spines of the books on the very top shelf. 'The Double Helix,' she said aloud. 'A Separate Peace.' She stretched her arms down the comforter and admired them. She spread her fingers wide apart and took her fingernails under consideration. Every bit of her was straight and strong and beautiful in this light. She glowed. She felt it pouring into her and yet she could tell by her skin, which looked ashy must mornings where she lives, that it was pouring out of her as well. It was just like the leaves they had studies in science class. She was caught in the act of photosynthesising. The light was processed through her and she was improved by it." (p.157-8)